As Portadown man Allen Gillis organises his forthcoming night to raise money for Guide Dogs NI, there is one very important friend missing from his side - his own guide dog Marco.
Marco, a three year-old yellow labrador, has returned to the charity while his owner recovers from a broken shoulder.
And Allen is hoping that the separation will be a short one, as he has come to rely on Marco in more ways than he thought possible over the past 15 months.
Allen (53), who lives on the Drumncanvy Road, has been totally blind for the past three years and had been gradually going blind for three years prior to that.
He said, “I am a diabetic and have glaucoma and rubeosis which has caused my blindness. At the moment I am totally lost without Marco.
“My balance is bad too and he is trained to push against me and steady me. Whenever I was on my own, I couldn’t walk anwhere but with him I can get out and about down the Long Lane for a walk.”
Allen had already started organising the fundraising event - a stew and music night in Portadown Golf Club on St Patrick’s night - with the aim of “giving something back” when he lost his balance and fell down stairs three weeks ago.
He explained, “Marco is trained to walk on my left side and it’s the left shoulder I have broken. He has had to go back to Guide Dogs to keep up hi s training, otherwise he loses what he has learned.
“There is a possibility they could retrain him to work on my right side.”
Allen, who worked in Robert Davidson Clothing in Bridge Street until his failing sight forced him to give up work five years ago, added, “Before I had Marco, I was stuck in the house.
“I couldn’t move without the help of my family (wife Rachel and daughters Rebekah and Jayne). Marco has taken the pressure off them because they know he is watching me.”
Music will be by local group The Brewery Boys. Tickets cost £10 and are available from the golf club.