Guide dogs become men’s new eyes

New guide-dog owners, from left, Johannes Heyns with Doug, Bill Harling with Jet and Christian Syfert and Impi.

Three blind men are “seeing” the world differently now with the help of new animal companions they spent two weeks training with in Claremont.

Christian Syfert, Johannes Heyns and Bill Harling spent two weeks at the South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind getting to know their new helpers.

Lindsey Concer, the association’s fund-raising manager, says the dogs were matched with their new owners after graduating from their training. “The new guide-dog owners stayed overnight with us for two weeks and worked with their new companions every day under the guidance of our guide-dog mobility instructors.”

Christian, 20, from Bellville, who was matched with Impi, was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was three-years-old.

“My sight started to deteriorate from then until it was completely gone when I was 18.

“I decided to get a guide dog after a long journey of finding ways to be independent, improve my self-esteem and be more confident in my own abilities.”

He says of Impi: “ I have a new friend and teammate that will never give up on me, and Impi is someone who can walk through life with me, no matter what.”

Johannes, 35, of Eersterivier, was also 3 when he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer that cost him his sight.

“The doctors told my mother she had a choice between me not having surgery and having abnormal brain function or having surgery and being blind.”

Johannes was matched with Doug. He says a friend of his also has a guide-dog and it has done him a lot of good.

“The first time I walked with my guide dog, it was a different feeling, something I never expected, and Doug is a part of me now.

“He is a great companion, and I already feel more comfortable getting around by myself, though it is not as easy as people think
to have a guide dog; it requires a lot of work, but I am looking forward to taking this journey with Doug.”

Bill, 72, from Hermanus was matched with guide-dog Jet. Bill lost his eyesight three years ago when he was beaten in a burglary while leaving his business.

“I decided to apply for a guide dog as I was struggling to get around and wanted to improve my mobility and independence, and I was also looking for some companionship, someone to be by my side.”

He’s looking forward to walking to the beach again, knowing he will be led safely.

According to Lindsey, the association’s trainers still need to overnight and work with the new owners and guide-dogs at their homes for two weeks.

“Our trainers also have to take the necessary safety precautions during this Covid-19 pandemic to stay safe.”

The outbreak is also going to hurt the association’s fund-raising efforts, she says.”We ask our community to remember us at this time, and, if you are able, please consider making a donation today, or perhaps signing up for a monthly donation. It will be appreciated.”

It costs R100 000 to train a guide dog and the visually impaired only pay R205 when they are matched with one.

Contact Lindsey at 021 674 7395 or LindseyC@guidedog.org.za or visit guidedog.org.za to learn more about how you can help.