One of the country’s most frequent flyers doesn’t sit in first class when he travels.
He sleeps under a chair.
Brogan – who Guide Dog Australia believes is the country’s most-travelled guide dog – took to the skies on Monday for the 300th time.
The loyal Labrador was accompanying his handler James Bennett to Alice Springs, to provide services to the blind and low-vision community.
“It’s a huge milestone and a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the degree of independence the dogs give us,” Mr Bennett said.
The event was marked by a special cake made of meat and carrots, which was practically inhaled by Brogan within seconds.
“That’s a Labrador for you!” Mr Bennett said.
Brogan knows Sydney Airport better than most.
About 75 times a year, he guides Mr Bennett through check-in and security, before finding the closest counter so they can be directed to the right gate.
Brogan gets his own boarding pass, but doesn’t earn frequent flyer points.
He then helps the 70-year-old board, guiding him past the ticket desk and onto the plane.
It is a complex and lengthy process, but Paul Adrian from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT said it was one Brogan had been trained to handle.
“Our dogs are specially bred and raised … they take these sorts of things in their stride.”
Once he is on the plane, Brogan lies underneath his handler’s seat, where unlike most other passengers – he can comfortably snooze.
“If I didn’t have the dog, I’d have to have an attendant with me … the attendant would have to stay with me the whole flight and look after my needs,” Mr Bennett said.
“When you think of the penalty rates for weekends – this works out to be cheaper!”
Losing sight was ‘life changing’
Ten years ago, James Bennett literally lost his sight overnight.
A problem with his heart cut blood supply to the optic nerves, impairing his vision.
“It was a life-changing event … in a good way.
“I’ve become aware of disability services and it’s moulded my life.”
Earlier this year, he received an Order of Australia medal for his services to the blind and low-vision community.
Part of his work involves mentoring and advocating for blind people.
“I understand the absolute frustration of not being able to get assistance, in a lot of cases not having our disability recognised, particular when it comes to restaurants or public places where you get ‘you cannot come in here with that dog’.”
The ‘mythical’ minder
One of the people he has helped is 43-year-old Danny Noonan, who has been vision impaired since birth.
The father-of-two had been looking for work for several years before he met the “mythical” James Bennett.
“It’s a very, very hard market and people do have perceptions of disability that are very, very wrong, and the way you are perceived is the way people assume you are able to fulfil the role.”
Mr Noonan is now being trained to work in the disability sector.
“There aren’t many people like James that I’ve come across,” he said.