67 YEARS OF SERVING MAN’S BEST FRIEND
When we say ‘Life is beautiful’ we speak in visual terms of the world we live in. Sight plays such a major part in determining where we go, what we do, what we eat, touch and enjoy, that, when we really want to think, taste, listen to music or smell something wonderful, we close our eyes so as not to be distracted by sight. Only then can we truly focus on our other senses.
A Visually Impaired Person (VIP) does not have this distraction. In a world designed for the sighted, the slightest freedom is denied to those who cannot see. A cup of coffee can be a dangerous hazard, furniture exists to trip people. Everything in their lives must be regulated, counted and memorized. How many steps to the door? Where is the sugar bowl? Whose voice is that? Does this shirt suit me? Is this safe to eat? Do I look neat and tidy? How much money do I have in my hand? How far away is that car?
Fortunately, the human brain is a truly marvellous piece of bioengineering, with the capacity to take the unused ‘sight space’ and put it to work enhancing other senses. However, this does not happen automatically, it has to be worked at extremely hard. That’s why a VIP has to depend a lot more on their hearing, touch, smell and taste. Enhanced senses do compensate to a certain degree, but a VIP still has to live in a sighted world. Simple tasks like travelling to work, shopping, drawing money, going to church or visiting friends are often difficult tasks without the assistance of a sighted friend.
Founded by Gladys Evans in 1953, the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (GDA) breeds and trains dogs for a symbiotic partnership that represents one of the finest achievements of the human spirit and the finest example of the human/animal relationship and bond. A Guide Dog doesn’t just provide independence and freedom, it also breaks down barriers and initiates conversations. Everyone admires a Guide Dog and they are by their very profession good-natured, sociable animals.
Wednesday, 29 April 2020 is International Guide Dog Day. On this day we celebrate the ultimate expression of the human-animal bond, the Guide Dog. An International Day dedicated to our cause is a privilege and a blessing, and we want to use it to highlight as much as possible what Guide Dogs do for Visually Impaired People. There are so many highly intelligent and capable people out there who just happen to be Visually Impaired. Guide Dogs give them the ability to live a life as close to normal as possible. A Guide Dog improves the quality of life of a VIP and also gives them the opportunity to enhance the lives of others.
As guide dogs and their owners are restricted during the state of lockdown, some of our guide dog owners came forward with written contributions about what their dogs mean to them – even in this very unusual situation. We believe it’s very appropriate to share these inspiring words and thoughts with you, including tributes to our puppy raisers and supporters/sponsors.
Anel Coetzee recently completed her training with her second guide dog and wrote the following tribute:
A GUIDE DOG A FRIEND AND HERO
“I applied for a guide dog, hoping for a dog that could help me navigate university, busy roads, shopping centres and public transport. I was so sure that was all I needed to be complete. Little did I know that the resume of my guide dog extends far beyond simply assisting me around obstacles or helping me find my way from point A to B. When faced with the challenges associated with blindness, Obi’s harness in my hand reminds me that I am not facing them alone. He is the one I cuddle with when anxiety gets the better of me. Once upon a time, I asked for just a guide dog and instead I got a partner for park runs, a friend for life and a hero who enables me to dare to dream, to hope and to believe that I could live my life whichever way I choose.”
Jeanne-Mari Viviers recently had to say good-bye to her four-footed companion and was at the start of her training with her new “friend” when the state of emergency was declared, and training had to be discontinued and our students had to go home. She is looking forward to training to resume, and shared the following thoughts re her retired friend:
“The phrase ‘love at first site’ is often referred to when meeting someone who brings an instant smile to your face or creates a little flutter in the heart. This rings very true for me and my guide dog Ebba.
Some might find it difficult to understand how once life can revolve around a dog, but for those who are blessed enough to have a guide dog, it is a concept we understand all too well.
I met Ebba in August 2014 and we quickly became friends. The following year we moved to Potchefstroom to begin our new lives as students.
For four years, come rain or sunshine, she would happily take me to class, sniffing the fresh morning air. She would sleep at my feet until it was time to move on to the next class. Whenever we sat on the grass waiting for the next class to start, she would skilfully position herself in an attempt to steel the apple my friend would carry in her bag, and when it was time to go home, she would have a pleading look in her eyes begging for a swim.
In celebrating International guide dog day, I would like to thank Ebba for the role she has played in my life.
Ebba, thank you for being as dependable as the early morning sunrise. For always being there whenever I needed you, whether it was 07:00 in the morning to take me to class, or 02:00 at night for a comforting hug.
Thank you for sweeping away all the seeds of self-doubt planted by others, deeming me unworthy of achieving something or becoming someone, with your wagging tail.
Thank you for licking away all the hurt and self-pity people created, with your tongue.
Thank you for being my pillar of strength when the world would come crashing down.
Thank you for allowing me to feed off your bottomless pit of confidence, when all I wanted to do was hide in a corner.
Thank you for teaching me to never shy away from a challenge, to chin up and embrace every obstacle and opportunity.
Thank you for showing me how to stay calm when the reality of the unknown is big enough to frighten anyone.
Thank you for making me smile every time that naughty gleam in your eye beams so brightly I can practically feel it burn my skin.
Thank you for reminding me that every day is a new gift, and that we should live life without pretence or regret.
Thank you for your endless courage. For getting up and trying harder each day, never giving up.
Thank you for allowing me to trust you and for never letting me down.
Thank you for your unconditional love.
Mostly, thank you for being you.
On 23 February I had to send you home, so you can enjoy the privileges of snuggling up in bed for your “after breakfast” nap, and to bask in the sun for as long as you please. You might not know, but you left an emptiness so great, it is impossible to describe. There will be others showing me the way, but they will never replace you.
Your motto in life is be happy and be proud. Every day you have lived it, and by doing so, you became my pride and joy.
It was a privilege working with you, and it is an honour to call you mine.
You are an excellent, beautiful and brave girl, and forever the queen of my heart.”
Danie Breitenbach commemorated his partnership with Chiva as follows:
“When you think of the saying, a dog is a man’s best friend, a guide dog takes it one step further, he is your ultimate friend. Chiva, my guide dog, and I have been together for almost 7 years and the longest we have been apart was 3 weeks.
The improvements a guide dog bring to once life are endless, however, I will mention a few which come to mind. He is the one that never complains if you say let’s quickly go somewhere – except maybe just before feeding time, then going somewhere happens somewhat reluctantly. He is a companion wherever you are walking around. Chiva really likes to walk fast, so in terms of going somewhere, getting there in no time is at the top of his list. He is always there to make your day. Another bonus is that you will never get lost alone.
No guide dog owner can say that their dog did not cause some entertainment. Some of these funny moments are when people suddenly realize there is a huge white dog behind them. Another hilarious incident was when Chiva once walked up to a lady who was sitting on the ground against a wall and stood over her. He was obviously just looking for a quick pet, however she sounded as if she was on her way to meet her maker, or saw a ghost. However, her reaction was priceless.
If I’m being really honest, I cannot imagine my life without a guide dog.”
Brendan Smith shared the following about how Riggs changed his life:
“There are the obvious things: how much easier it is to walk around now, how I don’t have so many bruises all over my legs from walking into things, even how Riggs is able to find routes after you’ve only shown it to him a few times. Not even mentioning that socialising is so much easier, as a mutual love for dogs attracts the right kind of people. But I’ve always said that he is so much more than a guide dog and this is what I would like to emphasise. Studying and working in the legal field is extremely stressful, no matter who you are. You deal with a lot of work and you’re constantly under some kind of pressure. Since I got him I’ve felt this burden lightening some. I’ve found his unconditional love a welcome distraction and motivator; his cheeriness brightened up many gloomy days and more often than not he gave me that extra nudge (no pun intended) to keep going. If it wasn’t for him and his wagging tale, cheerfully greeting me each morning, I might have been very tempted to give up a long time ago.”
Reinette Taljaardt met up with her companion, Landy, just over 3 years ago and described their partnership as follows:
LIFE WITH OR WITHOUT LANDY
“The short, ultimate answer would obviously be with! with! with! times infinity, and here’s why. This black bundle of joy burst into my life on 17 October 2016 and not long after, she stole my heart with her curly coat, nudging nose and the fluffiest ears I’ve ever felt. Getting a guide dog turned my life around 180 degrees into the right direction. Gone are the days of that shy little unconfident kid who felt so lost and too afraid to make conversation with strangers or ask for help. Bumping into obstacles and bruises I cannot account for are memories from what feels like a long-forgotten past, even though Landy is my first guide dog. Asking for help has become much less scary, what with Landy being the centre point of most conversations with strangers these days. I will not try and bluff anybody by saying that living with a guide dog comes with no challenges – from people completely disregarding the “do not distract” sign on her harness, to not being allowed into Ubers or shops “because of the dog”. Notwithstanding all of that, plus the responsibility that comes with ensuring she gets adequate time to “busy” during the 8-to-five work routine, she is properly fed and watered and she gets sufficient stress-relief while just being a pet off-harness, I would not trade her for the world! Landy takes good care of me, so I’ll be her care-taker and no matter what she does, I love her.”
Ruan du Plessis shared the following about his partnership with his medo:
MY LIFE BEFORE AND AFTER HAVING A GUIDE DOG
September 2012, the day I met Medo, was a turning point in my life.
Before Medo, I did not have much self-confidence (I always bumped into objects and people) and I was dependent on others.
Medo gave me the freedom to go where I will and he has been a constant companion through Bible College and a guest of honour at my wedding.
Medo boosted my self-confidence and independence. He is the eyes I always hoped for and brings light into a dark world.”
Visually impaired Paralympic swimmer, Cornelle Leach, has a very special place for Vogue in her heart and described it as follows:
“When you are visually impaired, identifying people and navigating their whereabouts is somewhat of a challenge-especially if they don’t introduce themselves when they approach you. To you, they are just a blob passing by. This was of course before I was blessed with a guide dog.
Vogue has changed this! Not only does Vogue guide me and avoids obstacles as trained, but she also serves as another role, which is an indicator. Through Vogue, people are able to identify me as a visually impaired person and when they walk by, they greet both me and Vogue and also introduce themselves. Vogue has been my bridge and guide me across it to being more social. Through Vogue, I have managed to make special friendships that would last a lifetime- friendships that I wouldn’t have made without her… It is needless to say that Vogue is a social butterfly and absolutely everyone wants to be her friend!
She also takes care of me in the most endearing ways… she would bring my shoes to me after I finished my swimming training. Her name after all is Vogue, so I suppose that it makes sense that she would want me to be dressed properly at all times. Another characteristic that can be derived from her name is that she has status and she knows it! For instance, when we are at a party and everyone is sitting on the benches by the braai, she feels that it is only fair if she also sits on the bench with us… she is a First Class Citizen for crying out loud. If we refuse her bench demand, she would not be shy as to share her annoyance through a very loud and dragging sigh…
Vogue is more than just a guide dog. Vogue has a sparkling personality with a heart made of gold. She has become my best friend and companion. She makes my life so much easier in the simplest ways and gives me the courage to go out and live my life to the fullest. She enabled me to walk to the gym every day and because of that, I qualified to compete at the World Para Swimming Championships in 2019. She has attended all my swim meets and practices since I got her, and sometimes she would support me by running up and down the pool length, when I reach the end, she would congratulate me with a big fat kiss across my face…”
A very fitting piece was also received to pay tribute to the role of our puppy raisers who open up their hearts, homes, cars, families, – in fact their whole being to raise these wonderful four-footed friends and companions, and this was from the pen of Anel Coetzee:
Receiving a guide dog, is a gift unmatched by the greatest treasures. So much more than just a dog, they come bounding into the lives of visually impaired people with paws, tails and more love in their furry bodies than anyone could wish for.
They are trained to be our eyes, to guide us and to ensure our independence. Every time we reach our destinations, there’s one less voice telling us that we are not capable and so, these special animals, become the guardians of our hearts and minds. They give us the confidence to step out of our comfort zones and live our lives without the insecurities and fear that once confined us to the environments we are familiar with.
Dear puppy raiser, we cannot imagine how difficult it must be to teach our heroes all the things we need them to know, to love them and then to have to let them go. Raising a puppy for a complete stranger is one of the most selfless acts of kindness and although it is impossible to put into words what your generosity means to a guide dog owner, we honor you for your dedication and sacrifices. “Thank you for staying up when your puppy was ill, for laughing at their antics, for the embarrassment you endured when they made a mess in public and you had to clean it up and for preparing them for their lives as guide dogs. You might not see the results of your efforts every day, but I hope you know that every smile, tear and pair of socks with holes in the toes proving that our
dogs once lived in your homes is truly appreciated. I hope you know that every command repeated, practiced, perfected by you makes all the difference. Above all, I hope you know that every time we put that harness on their bodies we think of you and how you changed our lives for the better. You dear puppy-raiser, are irreplaceable.”
How can you make a contribution in this state of emergency:
· Tell a friend, in fact everyone you know, about the wonderful four-footed miracles changing lives each and every day;
· Share the tributes above with your social media friends, and this is not only to be restricted to Wednesday, 29 April, but continue adoring their power and empowerment;
· Join our Walkathon campaign which will go live from 11 to 18 May, and rally up friends, family and colleagues to sponsor you so that S A Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind can continue with the provision of this vital service to our VIP community.
More information on GDA’s activities could be obtained by visiting our website www.guidedog.org.za, or by joining one of our social media platforms.