Article obtained from www.weekendpost.co.za , 2009/03/25 - written by Mthetho Ndoni
BEST FRIENDS ... Six-year-old German shepherd guide dog Robyn
is companion and aide to her blind owner, Tilani Eaton, of Mount Pleasant.
Picture: MIKE HOLMES
THE saying goes that a dog is man's best friend and that could not be more true for Port Elizabeth's Tilani Eaton.
The switchboard operator from Mount Pleasant is one of many visually impaired people who depend on guide dogs to get around, and she says her life would not be the same without her "angel" - six-year-old German shepherd Robyn.
Eaton, 35, started using a guide dog when she was 21 after her sight deteriorated badly. Robyn is her second dog after her first, Velvet, retired when she was 11 years old. Velvet died last week at the age of 15.
"Robyn is everything to me because she is very protective and supportive with every action I take.
"At home, I just tell her to find the way to my doctor, my friends and the shopping mall and she will take me there without me giving her any directions."
At her workplace, she tells Robyn to take her up the elevator and during lunchtime her dog takes her out for a walk without being instructed.
"Robyn helps me through obstacles and we have a mother and child relationship that would be hard to separate."
Eaton says, however, that shopping centre security guards treat her badly, telling her that dogs are not allowed. Other shoppers also complain, she says.
Another visually impaired woman, Helene Broodryk, 66, owns a three- year-old golden retriever guide dog named Dezzi.
Broodryk said she could tell her dog someone's name and Dezzi would take her to the person.
"My dog knows when it is safe to cross the road. When she sees there is a danger, she will pull me back."
She said Dezzi would protect her from strangers who might want to harm her and it would not even be easy to poison her dog because she had been taught not to take anything from anyone.
"I don't know whether I'll be able to take another guide dog when Dezzi retires, because she‘s so intelligent and I feel very safe when I'm around her. We are inseparable.
"I take her to the beauty parlour to get bathed, brushed and trimmed and her veterinarian cleans her teeth every week without charging me, because she's a guide dog."
Broodryk said she had been victimised several times by motorists who did not to stop for them, even at pedestrian crossings.
"When I cross at the robots or pedestrian crossing, I'll hear rude motorists hooting at me, but my guide dog will hold me back because she sees a danger."
She said she had also been chased away from some shopping centres because they did not allow dogs.
She felt discriminated against when security personnel failed to differentiate between an ordinary dog and a guide dog.
David Rayners, 45, of Uitenhage, said the relationship he had with his two-year-old guide dog, Gizmo, was like a father and son bond.
"My guide dog comes first in my life's priorities, because I know she won't disappoint me or leave me all alone in darkness."
Gail Cillie, the Eastern Cape chairman of Retina South Africa, said many people were not well informed about guide dogs, which she described as an assistance device for people with a visual disability.
"There is a law that states that guide dogs should be allowed in public places, including restaurants.
"Guide dog owners carry a card that allows them access to any building in this country."
Sue Burkett of the South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind said about 50 guide dogs were trained by the association each year.
She said they never had a shortage because they bred their own dogs.
"We raise a puppy for a year and then we take it for about six months of full-time training so that it is ready to perform duties as a trained guide dog for a blind person.
"The waiting period for a blind person to get a guide dog is about a year.
"Then we get the dog owner on a three-week residential training programme with the dog at our centres", which are situated in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
"The residential training comprises how to care for your guide dog and how and when to feed it and allows you to get to know your dog."
A blind person paid R5 for a puppy and R100 for training.
She said more than 90 per cent of guide dogs were Labradors, which were recommended as the best.