Rugby resident Luigia Nicholas recently “qualified” as the owner of guide dog, Haiku, a yellow male Labrador cross-golden retriever, with the help of the Guide Dog Association for the Blind (GDA).
Luigia, a Stellenbosch University student, is very involved in disability awareness and is the chair of Dis-Maties, and in her spare time she enjoys arts, crafts, shopping and watching movies and TV series.
Haiku was puppy-raised and trained at the GDA training facility in Claremont. Trainer Miranda Messina confirmed that her fostered “four-footed child” loves squeaky toys and giving kisses when he is off duty.
The founder of GDA, Gladys Evans, who had failing eyesight, brought the first guide dog, Sheena, to Africa after training at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the UK. Ms Evans started the GDA in Johannesburg in 1953.
Guide dog breeding lines are carefully selected to produce the best possible dogs. Each puppy’s first year is spent in the family home of a volunteer “puppy raiser”, where the pup is thoroughly socialised before it returns to the association at 12 months old, for six months of advanced training.
All applicants and dogs are carefully matched to suit each other’s needs. Training of the guide dog and recipient is first done at the association’s residential training centres for two weeks, followed by additional training in the guide dog owner’s home and work environment.
If you happen to encounter Luigia and Haiku on their daily routes, you should not distract, call, pat or feed Haiku.
According to GDA spokesman Pieter van Niekerk, owning a guide dog is a life-changing experience for someone with visual impairment.
“It is an all-inclusive package of independence, mobility, and companionship – a priceless gift,” he says.
To find out about how GDA can make a difference in your community through either a guide dog for a visually impaired person, a service dog for someone physically disabled, an autism support dog for children with low functioning autism spectrum disorder, or orientation and mobility training for a person who has lost some of their sight and needs training that can restore their independence, visit GDA’s website at www.guidedog.org.za for more information.