Durban – Eddie the guide dog is good at finding escalators, knows when to cross the road and which treadmill his owner, Kalairani Chetty, should go on at the gym.
And Glenwood resident, Chetty, who is partially sighted, describes the bond between them as “totally inseparable”.
According to the South African Guide Dog Association, a guide dog costs R100 000 to train, but only R5 is charged when a dog is paired with a new owner.
The association opened an office in Durban this year and Chetty and Eddie go to schools and old-age homes around Durban to raise awareness on the important role played by these dogs in so many people’s lives.
As a 4-year-old, Chetty suffered a brain tumour which damaged her optic nerve, leaving her with no sight in her left eye and partial tunnel vision in her right eye, which is worsening as she gets older.
For 22 years, she worked for a bank in Glenwood and lived with her grandmother, who used to take her to work and back. But when her grandmother passed away and she was medically boarded, her first guide dog, Nixon, entered her life.
After he died of old age, Chetty felt no other dog could possibly replace him until she met Eddie last year.
“The moment I met Eddie, I fell in love with him. We are totally inseparable, he’s such a mommy’s boy. The minute I’m out of the room, he’ll come looking for me. As long as he can see me, he’s happy. And even if I get up in the middle of the night, I can’t help giving him a hug and a snuggle,” she said.
According to Chetty, Eddie not only has an excellent memory when it comes to following her commands, but also uses his own judgement.
“I only have to tell him anything once or twice. When we get to a kerb, I listen to the traffic and will give him the forward command. But he will only cross the road when he sees it’s okay to do so,” she said.
The association trains dogs not only as companions for those who are blind or partially sighted (guide dog), but also to help for people in wheelchairs (service dog) and also as support for autistic children (autism support dogs).
The dogs are placed with volunteer puppy raising families when they are 7 weeks old, where they are exposed to sounds, environments and textures. After their puppy training, they start their formal training at 1 year of age where they are exposed to more intense training and will be graded as to what type of service they will render.
For example, a very calm dog will be paired with an autistic child. Training takes from a 18 months to two years, depending on the dog and before matching a dog and new owner; all the facts about both are considered.
Chetty said that when she gave presentations, she stressed that the public should not stop to pat a guide dog. “Everyone falls in love with them and wants to say hello but it’s important to ask the guide-dog owner if you can pat the dog because they can lose concentration. “When I go to the schools to raise awareness, I explain my life before and after having a guide dog. There is such a need for guide dogs here,” said Chetty, adding that her parents and family had always stood behind her.
“I would like to thank them for all their love and support. Eddie is very much a member of the family and when I go to my parents, we go for long walks together,” she said.
Ane Roux, from the newly established KZN office for the SA Guide Dog Association, said: “The training centres are in Joburg and Cape Town and as the Durban office, we are the new kid on the block. But we are raising awareness and want the public to know that a guide dog is not unaffordable. It costs R100 000 to train a dog, but only R5 for a new owner,” she said.