Noah Braun, co-founder, and director of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind remarked: "We take the dog and the harness and the training, and although we're not magicians, we create a miracle." I think that every guide dog team consists of two miracles. The first is the dog that is transformed from a playful puppy into a trustworthy, faithful companion capable of guiding us safely down the street. The second is the independence, confidence, and empowerment that guide dogs bring into our lives. That miracle happened for me eight years ago when I received my first guide dog from the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.
My deteriorating vision began to affect my mobility. I received training with a cane, but I was ashamed to take it out of my bag and use it because I did not want people in the street to know that I couldn't see. When I went out with friends, they began to constantly warn me of stairs, poles, and other obstacles that I could not see. I was going down the path that I had been fighting against all my life; Instead of remaining independent, I was becoming dependent upon others. I was no longer overcoming my visual disability. It was overcoming me.
I longed to regain my independence and to get control of my life again. The solution, of course, was obvious. I needed to get a guide dog. In 2009, I made one of the best decisions I have ever made: I called the Israel Guide Dog Center and applied for a guide dog.
Many of us experience conflicts and dilemmas when making an important decision about getting a guide dog. My greatest conflict was admitting that I no longer had sufficient vision to get around safely. But I loathed using a white cane so much that I was willing to take that final step of adopting a guide dog and entering the world of the blind.
In the fall of 2009, I attended a three-day evaluation course at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind. The course allows the instructors and the candidate to assess whether or not a guide dog is the best solution for attaining safe mobility. During the course, my mobility and orientation skills were evaluated, and I walked with a dog that had nearly completed its training. Throughout the course, I was fearful that I had "too much vision" to be given a guide dog and that I would be told to come back in the future if my vision worsened, But when the instructor and I met I was told that I would continue with the application process! I was placed on the waiting list to receive a dog!
I returned home elated and settled down for what I expected to be a waiting period of several months. To my delight, after one month, I was invited to attend the training course and I received my first guide dog, Suki – a stunningly beautiful white Golden Retriever.
The training course at the Israel Guide Dog Center is a two-and-a-half-week course with a set structure and specific goals. Students live on the pastoral campus located at the Beit Oved junction, 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv. Courses include up to six participants and are conducted by one or two instructors depending upon the size of the course. Clients are blind or visually impaired Israelis who come from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds: Jews, Muslims, Christians, new immigrants, and disabled veterans. Most clients attend on-campus courses, but domiciliary courses are given to people who require individual instruction such as deaf-blind clients or for new mothers who cannot leave home.
Learning to use a guide dog when you have some remaining vision has unique challenges. You must learn to use your vision wisely while relinquishing control to the dog. It is a question of placing trust in your dog, knowing that it will do its job. I wanted to learn to trust my dog without using my remaining vision and did some of the walks on the course blindfolded. I vividly remember standing on a dark city street in a nearby town during a nighttime walk, afraid to proceed. Suddenly I realized that I could trust this wonderful dog to guide me through the dark. I gave my dog the command "Kadima" which means "forward" in Hebrew and navigated the dark street!
After I returned home with Suki, my life changed completely. I no longer feel the need to hide the fact that I am visually impaired. Walking with a guide dog makes my identity clear to others as well as to me. My guide dog enables me to accept my identity as a visually impaired person. I had been ashamed to walk with a white cane, but I am proud to walk down the street with my guide dog.
Suki is no longer with me, but I now have Dinka, my second guide dog, a beautiful Labrador-Golden Retriever cross. I work at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in fundraising and marketing. My work involves traveling and speaking to school children, donors, and supporters in Israel, the United States, and Canada. Great Britain remained inaccessible to guide dog handlers for many years because of the quarantine laws, but in 2012 the laws were eliminated, and Dinka and I became the first guide dog team to enter Great Britain.
Dinka is my constant companion. She is a reminder of who I am and of the independent person I want to be. I am proud of her, proud of the empowerment that she gives me, and proud to be part of the guide dog school that has changed my life.
Guide Dogs in Israel
Working with a guide dog in Israel is challenging. Sidewalks are often narrow and filled with obstacles; illegally parked cars and motorcycles, trees, lampposts, and street furniture. Electric bicycles whiz by and cannot be heard and are hazardous to everyone. The climate in Israel is extremely hot in the summer, and temperatures climb to the upper 90s or higher. Sidewalks and pavements become burning hot in the noonday sun, and guide dog handlers are encouraged to use protective shoes to prevent dogs' paws while walking on hot pavements. It is essential to carry a bottle of water and a portable drinking bowl when taking a guide dog outside during the summer.
Accessibility legislation has existed in Israel since 1991. The law permits guide dog handlers to enter all public domains and to use public transport. Recent amendments to the original legislation also permit access to puppy walkers and guide dog trainers with dogs in training.
Israel is a multi-cultural and multi-religious country and many people still harbor deep cultural and religious prejudices against dogs. Islam considers dogs to be impure animals and forbids people to have contact with them, and Orthodox Jews are reluctant to keep dogs in their homes. Consequently, despite legislation, guide dog handlers still encounter resistance from taxi drivers, bus drivers, and business owners who refuse to obey the law. The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is constantly working together with other organizations to increase public awareness and to ensure that the accessibility law is enforced.
We hope that in the future more and more blind and visually impaired Israelis of all religious and cultural backgrounds will overcome their prejudices and will be able to enjoy the many advantages that guid
all the guide dogs who will be with me in the future
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish