A little over a year ago I applied to SA Guide Dogs for a service dog. I was a little nervous, as I knew it was going to be a big change in my life.
For those of you who know me and have been involved in my life for the last few years, you will know that since I lost the ability to walk unaided, my life had shrunk to the extent that I only went out with others, either using an organic walker (someone else’s arm) or my own walker or being pushed in my wheelchair. So life was mostly me in my office or my treatment room with a twice weekly excursion out to teach Taiji.
Then in January I got the call and had to make the final decision, a dog was ready for me. I had no idea what sort of dog, male or female, age – nothing until the day I met her. I had been told that I would have to walk her every day once I got her home.
Hold on, I’m a semi-recluse, seldom leaving my house, how on earth was I going to do that. Along came the Talent Exchange to the rescue. I bought a second-hand disabled electric scooter. So off my scooter and I went to the training centre in Claremont for 5 days, living in, learning how to work with my new dog.
Shyann is a gentle, beautiful Golden Retriever and we fell instantly in love. I had to learn how to ask her to get things for me, how to bring them to me, give them to me, leave them, walk next to the scooter, go behind or ahead of me, leave other dogs alone, ignore traffic, lie quietly at my side in restaurants, do a busy (loo stop) on command, bark on command, jump up onto my lap and many other commands.
I had to learn how to care for her, brush her, check her body, her ears, watch her reactions. I’ve had dogs for the last 30 years so I thought I knew all about dogs. How wrong could I be?
Trainers go beyond the call of duty
The trainers worked with us all day, every day for the five days. We were fed and housed and at the end of the five days, I was presented with the bill – R100 for the training and accommodation and R5 for Shyann! They then came home with me to help her settle in to her new home, to be introduced to my other animals. For a further week they came every day to work with us at home, checking out our routes, where we would walk, what outings Shyann would accompany me on. I also came home with enough foods and supplies for weeks.
The SA Guide Dogs association obviously does not recover costs from the owners of the dogs. They rely entirely on donations and sponsors. It costs over R10,000 to breed, raise and train a Guide Dog (or Service Dog). For as long as I am a Service Dog owner the Guide Dogs Association is on hand to help me with my dog at no further costs to me.
Shyann has changed my life. She oozes love, she is so willing to work and desperate to help. Because of her my life has widened immensely. Her first job every morning is to climb onto my bed and give me the end of my pulley I use to help me sit up. Her next job is to cuddle up close for our daily meditation. She brings me my little mat when I need to get up from a chair and my feet are slipping.
She insists on getting me out and about no matter what the weather for a walk.
Unconditional love personified
In a restaurant recently, people at the table next door dropped a salt cellar onto the floor. Shyann desperately tried to reach it to retrieve it for them. Everything I taught her I need, has been piled up on to my desk as she keeps retrieving them. She’s not a Golden Retriever for nothing! I’m now teaching her to leave some of the things where I’ve put them. I accidentally dropped the front door key the other day and after a good number of tries she managed to pick it up and give it to me. She loves everyone and happily gives her love to everyone.
She’s my shadow, follows me everywhere and waits for me when I’m climbing the stairs.
She accompanies me to St Giles where we volunteer once a week teaching ‘seated’ Taiji to other people with disabilities. Shyann adores everyone there and is adored by everyone.
Perhaps you will now understand why I am so keen to help support SA Guide Dogs.
By Dawn Pilatowicz