Their number is increasing and nowadays people are used to them. For the visually impaired, guide dogs provide much-needed assistance and independence to their owners in everyday life.
After the training is completed, it takes about two years for a dog to complete the task. Once they begin their duties, they serve almost as a pair of eyes for their owners.
Dogs are designed for safe and independent mobility, enabling the visually impaired to meet their daily needs in every environment. Owners credit it for improving their quality of life. But assigning a guide dog to the visually impaired requires rigorous, three-step training and proper matching with the owner. After training each dog will be given a certificate.
Guide Dogs Association has certified the dogs, which currently number nine, as the NGO hopes to increase this number. Guide dogs are selected among Golden and Labrador Retriever dogs, which are more qualified to serve as guide dogs. Each dog is assigned a volunteer family for approximately one year under the supervision of trainers. During that period, they first learn socialization, toilet training and many commands. In the next step, they become familiar with the leash, how to stop when they encounter obstacles such as high curbs, crossing the road safely, and identifying elevators, stairs, and trash cans. In the final phase of training, they spend about 1 1/2 months with their visually impaired owners.
Burku Bora, a guide dog trainer at an association that provides free guide dogs to the visually impaired, said they have been providing canine companions for the past four years. Bora herself has taken courses for guide dog training in the United Kingdom and from foreign trainers in Turkey. In fact, she is the only qualified guide dog trainer in the country. Her current assignment is “Esmer,” a 19-month-old Labrador.
Like their canine friends, owners also undergo a “qualification” process. “We also test potential owners and check if they can adjust their lives to the dogs or if the dogs can adapt to their lives both physically and mentally and for themselves,” Bora said. “Their speed, the sound of their voice and the environment they live in are important factors to determine that. We also need to determine whether the owner is ready to take responsibility for the animals. They are children, not robots. They need to take care of the dogs, feed them properly and people ensure their well-being.” ,” she said. The only thing they ask from the owners is that the association covers the cost of the animals’ food and health care, thanks to the sponsors. “We regularly check the well-being of the dogs and we also help the owners if they need new training,” she said.
Each dog spends about eight or 10 years with their owners. “In addition to helpfulness, they provide companionship to their owners,” Bora said.
“If a dog and its owner are perfectly matched (at the training stage), it is almost miraculous. It also gives you an opportunity to see how important it is to depend on a dog. They are loyal animals and they care for their owners. For example, they can alert their employer even if they are distracted,” Bora told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday.
Kemal Gori, a 33-year-old musician, is among the owners of Baydog guide dogs. Born blind, Bedag says the real challenge is getting around easily, “especially in chaotically designed cities and places that have to be solved.” Beydaı heard about guide dogs when he was a child and was impressed. “I’m fascinated that a dog can accompany you, protect you and comfort you in this chaotic environment. Little did I know that Türkiye also hosts guide dogs and found out about it while listening to the speech of Noordeniz Tuncher, the founding president of the association. Then, I approached the association and started my ownership process,” he said.
It’s been 13 months since he met 3-year-old “Bulut” (Cloud) and found the “perfect match”. “You have to have matching variables. For dogs, it’s their behavior, physical characteristics and the environment they feel comfortable in. For employers, it is their psychological profile, physical condition, environment and preference of transportation,” he says.
He said he first learned how to “communicate” with Bulut. “We spent three weeks together in a facility (under the supervision of a trainer). He learned my moves and I learned how to move with him, how to talk to him.
For Bedag, who lives in Istanbul, Bulut allows the city to be easily navigated. “Istanbul is a historic city, home to many civilizations, but accessibility is very limited. For disabled people, travel is not easy. But Bulut helped me overcome it. He helps me avoid obstacles in badly designed spaces (for people with disabilities). He gives me a safe way. He’s ready for anything and can sense everything from oncoming pedestrians to people pushing carts on sidewalks and traffic. With him, I don’t have to rely on human guides,” he said. Bulut also remembers their usual route and the mass transit vehicles used by Bedag. “He He can take me home from anywhere,” he said.
Beydağı has a problem, though: other people are trying to keep his cute canine companion as a pet. “You can’t expect him to react like any other pet. I ask people not to pet him because it can distract him and endanger his owner’s safety.