VisAbility’s building Perron Place is honoured to be the home of a unique statue recognising Dr Arnold Cook, a highly influential and unique pioneer in the vision impaired community.
The bronze statue was designed by Perth sculptor Greg James. It was completed in 2007 and shows Dr Cook kneeling down in front of Guide Dog Dreena.
The statue stands on a limestone plinth with a plaque with the words:
Dr Arnold Cook (1922-1981) with his Guide Dog Dreena
An inspirational leader with the blind community; founder of Australia’s Guide Dog movement, successful academic, champion of education and social rights activist
For many years the statue was on display in front of the building close to our Guide Dog Discovery Centre.
More recently it was decided to move the statue to an internally accessible courtyard garden. It’s an area used by our Guide Dogs day-to-day.
Dr Arnold Cook’s legacy
Arnold Cook was born in 1922 and was raised in country Western Australia. At an employment test at the age of 15, his suspicions that there was something wrong with his eyesight were confirmed.
In seeking medical advice, Arnold was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. His eyesight deteriorated rapidly and by the age of 18, he was legally blind.
Faced with limited career options, Arnold returned to school to study for his leaving certificate, so he could continue his studies at university. At the age of 25 Arnold Cook graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours in Economics) from the University of Western Australia.
As a student he applied for a Guide Dog while studying at the London School of Economics (link opens in new window). He was accepted into the program and trained with Dreena, a Black Labrador.
In 1950 Dr Arnold Cook returned home with Dreena and the Guide Dog Association in Australia was established a year later in Perth.
Establishing Guide Dogs in Australia
The Guide Dog Association was initially housed in two old tram carriages. The first formally trained Guide Dog was Beau, who was a Kelpie/Border Collie cross, and was matched to Elise Mead. Elsie lost her sight as a child when she picked up a live detonator.
Elsie remarked the dog had ‘opened the portals of new life and bridged the gulf that separated the sighted and sightless.’
Beau was the first Guide Dog in WA. By 1957, every state in Australia had its own branch. Guide Dogs were beginning to change the lives of people who were blind.
Elise became Secretary of the West Australian Guide Dog Association and Beau was her companion for thirteen years before he retired.
King’s Park honour
Another bronze statue of Dr Arnold Cook is in Perth’s picturesque King’s Park. This statue features Dr Cook with a book, holding the lead to his Guide Dog with garden seats either side. It was commissioned by Blind Citizens WA (link opens in new window) who were behind its dedication in 1986.
Dr Cook is generally credited with raising the profile of blind people across Australia.
To find out more about Dr Cook and the origins of Guide Dogs visit Guide Dogs WA (link opens in a new tab).
For guidance and support using a white cane, find out more about our Orientation and Mobility.