Henry and Bev mark special friendship
FEATURING in a new book to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT marks a special journey for Bev Larsson and her beloved guide dog, Henry.
The pair, who were brought together six-and-a-half years ago, feature in a collection of 60 short stories entitled 60 Tails.
The book traces the essence of a companionship formed in the aftermath of a life-changing period eight years ago, when an idyllic dream setting on a beautiful Indonesian island turned into a nightmare.
“I’d been scuba diving, Baz (her husband) had been surfing and we’d probably been through 15 different islands in the Indonesian archipelago,” Bev said.
“We returned to a beautiful little island off the tip of Aceh, it was a jungle-meets-the-ocean environment.
“We noticed how depleted families still were, there was no support for them. I told Baz I’d really like to help, so I suggested building a bungalow for them to rent to tourists and for us to live in when we visited.”
Stitching together two decommissioned tsunami shelters, the pair set about building a villa with a studio and a partially roofed platform offering magnificent views.
“Halfway through doing that, I came back from a shopping expedition and struggled up an external staircase. I said to Baz, ‘I don’t feel well, I think I’ll go lie down,’ ” she said.
“Everything was really silvery and I was really photo-phobic. The next time I woke up, Baz asked how I was feeling and I said, ‘Have you woken me in the middle of the night?’ he said, ‘It’s daylight, Bev,’ but everything was completely black.”
Rushing to Singapore, Bev spent 10 days in hospital but was relieved when her vision began to slowly return.
“I thought it was going to be okay and within three months it was slowly coming back,” she said.
“So I was on the up, then everything went pear-shaped again.”
Always the optimist, Bev was confident her vision would again return but during a visit to Sydney Eye Hospital she was told her vision loss was permanent and she’d “better get used to it”.
The abrupt loss of eyesight was due to a toxin attacking her optic nerves, resulting in bilateral optic nerve atrophy.
“It was crushing and the bottom fell out of my pit and I went tumbling down,” Bev said.
Faced with an uncertain future and dealing with other issues with family, things were tough for Bev. But then along came Henry.
“The best anti-depressant I ever could have ever had is (Henry),” she said.
“He has turned my life around, he’s so much fun and has the best sense of humour.
“Henry transformed my life, giving me freedom and a new-found independence to support healing.
“He is clever and sensitive and sometimes I feel as though he can read my mind.”
The pair work as a dynamic duo in Bev’s formal employment with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
As a public relations speaker, Bev travels around the community, providing a true-life account of what it is like to have vision loss but still live an inspiring, independent life.
“I take him to schools and he speaks on command. If I ask him how old he is he barks eight times, kids love it,” she said.
While the entertaining visits are enjoyable, Bev also imparts the importance of respecting guide dog guidelines.
“I’m also a co-author of a book called Along Came Henry. It’s pretty much our biography and I recite the story to the kids,” she said.
“At the back of the book is my master plan of how to behave around a guide dog. He needs to keep me safe, as if he’s distracted, he’s lost his mojo for me.”
After learning Braille and using various aids to assist her in getting around her Hastings Point home, Bev minimises her chances of injury.
She cooks from scratch using a recipe book, swims in the backyard pool pioneered from a shipping container and dabbles in gardening.
While she has adjusted to life as best she can, Bev said it hasn’t been smooth sailing.
“I never had a crash course in being blind,” she said.
“I’ve picked up a cup of tea from the sink to have a sip and found out it was dishwater, I’ve eaten mouldy bread and I’ve put shaving cream on my toothbrush.”
But whether it’s walks on the beach, yoga class, travelling or simply protection, Bev said Henry had been her “salvation”, which is documented among the stories shared in 60 Tails.
“Henry dons his working harness like a uniform,” she said.
“He is clever, sensitive and I am so grateful to have been gifted an amazing guide, protector and buddy. He has been my salvation.”
BEST MATES: Bev Larsson and Henry share a moment in the garden with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT anniversary book 60 Tails.
The dynamic duo enjoy walks on the beach, just a stone’s throw from Bev’s Hastings Point home.
Ms Larsson and Henry entertain the kids during a school visit.
Henry accompanies Bev on a flight.
Bev said Henry loves the beach and loves to play.