Miranda man is walking 500km with his service dogs to help farmers

Never walking alone: Andrew McGowan spent today resting at Engadine before he sets off again on his walk to Canberra. Picture: John Veage
Never walking alone: Andrew McGowan spent today resting at Engadine before he sets off again on his walk to Canberra. Picture: John Veage

A Miranda man has set off on a 500-kilometre journey on foot with his two best friends, his service dogs, by his side.

Andrew McGowan left NSW Parliament House at 4pm last Friday afternoon and will spend the next 10 to 12 weeks walking up to five hours every night, before resting during the day, as he makes his way to Canberra.

He wants to raise awareness of the role of service dogs, who help sexual abuse survivors like himself overcome their past trauma, and at the same time help farmers who are battling drought.

This is Mr McGowan's second walk. In 2016, he was joined by his original service dog, Chelsea Dog, on a 500km journey from Kempsey to NSW Parliament House, which he completed in just 30 days.

At the end of that walk he bumped into then Treasurer Scott Morrison, who promised to catch up with Mr McGowan and Chelsea Dog if they ever made it to Canberra.

Three years later, Mr Morrison kept his promise, inviting the pair into his office in Parliament House Canberra for a photo opportunity that ended with a slobbery kiss.

Support: Andrew McGowan's service dog Chelsea Dog had an audience with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Supplied

Support: Andrew McGowan's service dog Chelsea Dog had an audience with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Supplied

Sadly, Chelsea Dog passed away last October after "four dedicated years of love and service".

"I thank Chelsea Dog for saving my life and giving me a reason to get out of bed for two years," Mr McGowan said.

Now Mr McGowan is continuing his fight to have a national approach to service dogs, this time with two new companions, Essie Girl and Hay Zeus, by his side.

"We are going to finish the journey Chelsea Dog and I started on February 14, 2016," Mr McGowan said.

Mr McGowan said many people still did not understand the important role a service dog played to people like himself, who suffers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his past sexual abuse.

Essie Girl wakes him up before he has nightmares while Hay Zeus calms him down when he is distressed, both giving him a better quality of life.

But many in the community don't know about the role of service dogs, also known as therapy dogs or assistance dogs, and he is often met with discrimination.

"Even though they have service jackets on people still don't accept them. I've been refused taxi rides in the past, I got a letter of apology from the Minister of Transport for the way I've been treated on a bus, I've been frog-marched out of Aldi," he said.

"I walked into Woolworths in Engadine today and a woman said 'You can't have your dog in here'."

Along the way, he is raising money for drought-affected farmers in and around Tamworth following a chance meeting with a cattle farmer.

To date he has bought 11 round bales and 11 rectangular bales. Each bale will feed 24 cattle for a week.

He believes drought-affacted farmers have not gotten enough help, which is why he is collecting donations along the way.

To learn more about Mr McGowan's journey you can visit his Facebook page Never Walking Alone click here