Guide Dog User Stories
Alexandra was born in Targoviste and moved to Bucharest when she was 15. She then attended the Regina Elisabeta High School for students with visual impairments. She suffers from a rare hereditary ophthalmic disease resulting in very restricted sight, prompting her parents to steer her towards special education.
“I met representatives from Light into Europe as part of my activities at the Special Secondary School for the Visually Impaired,” says Alexandra, “where I work as a Special Education teacher.”
Four years ago she was approached with the project “Guide Dogs for the Blind.”
“The thought of having a canine helper made me very happy,” says Alexandra, “I have always loved animals and particularly dogs.
In addition, I needed help with all my many and varied travels.”
After going through the initial steps before training, Alexandra then had to wait a while until she got a guide dog, Bonnie.
“I had an emotional tie with Bonnie from the first moment,” says Alexandra, “because I love animals, but to develop a real partnership took around five-to-six months. Bonnie and I have been together since May 2016 but now I feel that we have been together for life!”
The advanced training with Bonnie took two-to-three weeks total dedication and included all aspects of physical and emotional development.
“For me, the most difficult things to learn were cumulative, like linking exact movements to various commands,” says Alexandra. “I was upset when things went wrong and worked hard to prevent relapse.”
Since Alexandra has had Bonnie, they go on the daily routes they learned during their training, as well as new ones.
“We have experienced Bucharest and Targoviste, as well as other new places,” says Alexandra. “The first day in any new place we explore gradually, of course. Bonnie is used to Bucharest, a big, crowded city, so does an excellent job in other locations.”
The main routes which Bonnie knows were already familiar to Alexandra, but now she can relax a bit as Bonnie pays attention to the road, people and especially any new obstacles they encounter.
“I have become more independent and active with her,” says Alexandra. “We go to the park or a certain enclosure almost every day.
Bonnie is very much admired there and as a result I have made new friends.”
Alexandra is very grateful to Mark Platt (UK Director of Light into Europe), who was Bonnie’s main puppy walker in the UK. Bonnie lived with Mark and his family for eight months. During her training, Bonnie was taken to a variety of places, including local authority offices, schools and shops as an essential part of her development. “I would advise any blind person that they would become increasingly more independent with a guide dog,” says Alexandra.
“If such a dog receives trust and affection she gives you back trust, affection and security.”
Alexandra believes there are many things the government can do for the blind with goodwill and commitment.
“The most important for me at the moment is to improve accessibility,” says Alexandra, “which is in fact legal in many institutions, such as hospitals, restaurants, shops etc. After this, accessibility to means of transport, audible signals for buses, trams etc., audible traffic lights, prevention of parking cars on the pavement, and so on.”
Adrian & Veronica
Adrian and Veronica are in their early 30s and have been married since 2010. They work as masseurs at the “Ghicelui” Arad Therapy and Rehabilitation Center for children and are qualified social workers. They have both suffered from absolute blindness since birth.
“For us, the idea for a guide dog was an unfulfilled dream”, says Adrian. “It seemed unattainable in Romania.”
In the summer of 2014 they met Max, an Irish guide dog, in Bucharest.
“Something virtually impossible to explain was sparked then,” says Adrian. “We realized then that as a visually impaired couple we could achieve independence with a guide dog.”
It’s not always easy for blind people to depend on a third, sighted person to help them. The connection between Adrian and Veronica and Max was quickly established and it was love a first “sight”.
They had to wait until September for Max to come to Arad. It seemed like an eternity. They felt honoured to be trained with Mr. Alan Brooks from the UK, as well as Anca Vasile from the charity.
“After only 10 days we acquired the spatial mobility we always longed for,” says Adrian. “Our love for puppies already existed and our desire to learn was intense.”
Their partnership with Max was the first tandem partnership in Romania, if not Eastern Europe. Now they could go by themselves, with Max, to work and back and do trivial things like going shopping without depending on someone else.
“The most significant thing,” says Adrian, “was the idea that as a couple we could take a walk together. I don’t have words to explain how it felt to go together as a couple, with Max’s help, for a romantic walk or dinner.” Now, with the help of their intelligent friend Max, they can go wherever they need to go.
“Veronica can go and meet her friends,” says Adrian, “and I can go out with the boys.”
They advise any blind person who wants independence to consider getting a guide dog, even though it involves a lot of responsibility.
“The guide dog has needs and is a being who depends on the blind,” explains Adrian.
“He needs love, petting, play and to be taken care of. He has to be walked regardless of the rain, snow and heat and has physiological needs. A healthy and happy dog makes a happy life for the blind.”
Adrian explains that blind people also need mobility and orientation in order to be compatible with a guide dog and it is also important to keep up all the skills given by the guide dog trainer.
“Otherwise the dog may lose some of the skills,” says Adrian, “and you will have achieved nothing.”
Adrian and Veronica feel the government should develop appropriate legislation for people with disabilities. The local community should comply with the accessibility legislation in public places in order to make the blind person’s life easier. A well-developed media campaign would help educate the public and make them more aware of the importance of guide dogs for the blind.