NELSON the labrador has an incredible nose that can sniff out different coffee shops, supermarkets and banks - but he's so much more than that to Phillip Tilley.
The Tamworth man started losing his sight more than two decades ago, but it was only when he got guide dog Nelson five years ago that he started to gain back his independence and confidence.
"It's been an amazing change and I could not go back," he told the Leader.
"Nelson and I are a team ... we have a language of our own."
Mr Tilley said Nelson has two personalities, and likes to work hard and play hard.
"When the harness is on he knows he's at work and when the harness us off he is just my dog and does what all other dogs do," Mr Tilley said.
The paw-some pair are drawing attention to the role guide dogs play in everyday life for International Guide Dog Day today.
Seven-year-old Nelson has had his canine senses finely tuned to the commands of his human and knows Mr Tilley's favourite Tamworth haunts.
"I can say to him 'blue' and he will find me Jamaica Blue, I can say 'Gloria' and he will take me to Gloria Jeans," Mr Tilley said.
"When we're at Shoppingworld I say 'Woolies' and he has no trouble finding that, and when I'm at east I say 'Woolworths'."
Mr Tilley said having Nelson by his side has given him the confidence to get out and about walking, catching public transport, shopping, paying bills, socialising and just living life as independently as possible.
Nelson and I are a team ... we have a language of our own.Phillip Tilley
"I started losing my sight in 1999, I was stubborn and a typical boy ... I thought I could handle it and I could do it all by myself but as my sight deteriorated it didn't take long to figure out I needed help, and in hindsight I can say clearly and proudly now that I wish I had sought help earlier," he said.
As part of the old training program through Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Mr Tilley and young Nelson stayed together in a Sydney hotel for days as part of a bonding exercise.
"I was nervous about it at first," he admitted. "We were trapped and had to rely on each other."
As International Guide Dog Day 2021 rolls around, Mr Tilley reminded locals that no matter how cute Nelson or another work dog might look, please don't call out to it or try and pat it.
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