Leo officially a qualified guide dog

Thornton resident Michael Watermeyer and his guide dog Leo.

Thornton resident Michael Watermeyer and his recently-qualified guide dog Leo, a black male Labrador cross golden retriever are pounding the pavement of their neighbourhood.

Mr Watermeyer, a qualified lawyer, works at the University of Cape Town (UCT) as a liaison officer.

He is very involved in the Grahamstown library for the blind and enjoys walking, reading audio and Braille books, and watching audio-descriptive movies.

Mr Watermeyer said Leo is young, energetic with loads of personality and will be two years old on Saturday May 20.

Mr Waterneyer said guide dogs work for about 10 years and that his workplace at UCT has lots of routes and destinations which Leo must be familiar with. They use university transport, but also get by using public transport.

Leo is Mr Watermeyer’s fifth guide dog since he went blind in his late teens.

“The Guide Dog Association does the most amazing, real work for disabled people,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the Guide-Dogs Association, South Africa, Leo was puppy raised and trained in Cape Town and sponsored by Lions International.

Puppy raiser, Des and Estelle van Biljon, confirm that their fostered “four-footed child” loves playing tug of war games and running on the beach when he is off duty.

SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind’s founder, 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. Gladys Evans started the SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind 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 owners home and work environment.

If you happen to encounter Michael and Leo on their daily routes do not distract, call, pat or feed Leo, the association said.

To find out about how the association can make a difference in your community through either a guide dog for a person who is visually impaired, a service dog for a person who is 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 www.guidedog.org.za