FOR half a century, guide dogs have been helping Alan Roberts lead a normal life.

The 73-year-old has a progressive condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which meant that his sight began deteriorating in his youth but he has been able to achieve things he never thought possible thanks to his trusted companions.

Alan, of Gloucester Street, Atherton, has had seven guide dogs in the past 50 years, all of which were German Shepherds, called Major, Trixie, Janson, Casper, Edmond, Arthur and his latest best friend Seamus.

He said: “Having a guide dog has changed my life.

“You can almost become complacent being a guide dog owner for 50 years.

“Recently my dog was off work for a while recovering from an operation. I then remembered what it was like to be without one, I really owe a lot to Guide Dogs.”

With his second guide dog Trixie, Alan began walking an ambitious 16 mile route regularly, around Derwentwater in the Lake District with friends.

After five years of doing this route, Alan was eventually able to complete this route alone with just Trixie for company - something that Alan never thought possible before owning a guide dog.

“There really is nothing better than walking around Derwentwater, just me and my dog at six in the morning, listening to the sound of the birds singing echoing off the mountains,” said Alan.

Alan went to Industrial College and his first job was in a factory assembling motors for hairdryers.

It was shortly after this time in 1964 that Alan trained with his first dog Major from the Guide Dog Training Centre - then based in Bolton - which made getting around and to and from work easier.

He still volunteers for Guide Dogs as a collection box coordinator.