GUIDE DOG HELPS MAKE VISUALLY IMPAIRED WOMAN’S LIFE FULL AND REWARDING
Imagine opening your eyes in the morning and not being able to see. Imagine your vision was reduced to the point that it’s as if you’re looking through a rolled up magazine with a piece of gauze on the end.
That’s what Sue Terada deals with on a daily basis. But don’t be fooled, this Osoyoos resident isn’t letting her disability keep her down.
“You have that choice,” said Terada. “Hope, and go out and enjoy life, or retreat, and lose a lot of life.”
Over the past 20 years, Terada has been fighting an ongoing battle against a deteriorating case of glaucoma.
“I’ve always had poor vision but it’s been a progression over the past 20 years,” she said.
Terada said the journey into blindness can be very depressing as it becomes a constant struggle to try to maintain and enjoy activities in one’s life.
The first thing she lost as a result of her poor vision was her driver’s licence. Then it was her ability to ride a bike, and finally, simply getting around on her own without having to rely on the help of her husband Naga, her three children or her friends (although they are all more than willing according to Terada).
“Your world becomes smaller and more intense,” she said. “The walls come in on you. When you’re losing your sight, you’re always struggling to keep it.”
While Terada is visually impaired, she hates to be called blind.
In fact, she said 90 per cent of the people in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind are not completely blind, but rather visually impaired to various degrees.
“Most people have a little bit of vision,” said Terada. “But of course 10 per cent are totally blind.”
About eight years ago, as Terada’s vision continued to deteriorate, she was contacted by a friend in Vancouver, who is also visually impaired, who recommended she look into getting a guide dog.
“I could see how well she was coping and I thought maybe it was time to bite the bullet and go ahead and apply for a guide dog,” said Terada.
After contacting B.C. Guide Dogs Services, a company based out of Vancouver, and explaining her position, Terada was invited to the office for an info session, and from there, an assessment.
Back in Osoyoos, she was visited by a member of the B.C. Guide Dogs, who assessed both her physical and mental condition to ensure she would be able to handle a guide dog.
“This person came out, visited me, and said, ‘yeah, you’re an ideal candidate,’ ” said Terada.
After that, Terada’s height and weight were measured and her lifestyle was assessed as well. Being a very active person, it was clear that she needed a large, active dog.
Not too many people know what’s involved in the arduous process of training a guide dog, but with a total cost of roughly $37,000 per dog, it’s quite extensive, she said.
First, a dog is selected that will fit the potential owner’s size and lifestyle. That dog is then sent to live with a “puppy walking” family, who treats it just like another family pet for eight weeks.
“They teach them all the nice things in life, like don’t eat off the table, don’t sit on the chairs, come when you’re called, sit, stay, lay down – all these things,” said Terada.
Once the puppy is at the “right level” as far as obedience goes, they are placed in a training program for six months, working five days a week, eight hours a day, with a specially trained guide dog expert.
After six months of training, the dog must pass a series of tests before they are finally introduced to their future owner.
Terada said when she first met Pinta, then a two-year-old Labrador-Retriever cross, she was ecstatic; however, Pinta didn’t seem to share the same feelings.
While she was friendly, Terada said she didn’t show very much affection simply because they didn’t know each other. She said it was about six months before they really became in sync.
“Now we’re like glue,” she said.
Interestingly enough, the guide dogs actually come with their names. Because B.C. Guide Dogs Services is funded solely through donations, private donors who give more than $20,000 are given the chance to name a dog.
Pinta, which means female painter/artist in Spanish, got her name from a Mexican family who had just lost their own dog. They named the dog Pinta as a way of remembering their lost family member.
After their introduction, Terada was required to have Pinta at her house for a week, treating her just like any other pet.
“They bring the dog over to your house for a visit, and if you and the dog seem to bond, they leave the dog with you for one week,” she said. “And that dog is just like your pet. You have them in the house; you bond with them, feed them, brush them and play with them.”
The trainer will then return to the house after a week of interaction and spend up to a month training with both the owner and the dog, making sure it’s a solid fit.
Terada said she managed to get the training done in two weeks, most likely because she still had a bit more of her sight at that time. Visually impaired people are often recommended to get guide dogs before they go completely blind in order to ease the learning process, she said.
Once the trainer had left and Pinta was officially hers, Terada said it was as if someone had once again opened up her world.
“I could go for walks, I could walk to town, go meet friends … whereas, if I didn’t have the dog, I would always be hanging on to someone or trying to work with a white cane, which is very hard,” she said. “It opened life up for me 100 per cent.”
While having Pinta has given her endless possibilities in her daily life, Terada said she still faces a number of difficulties.
For instance, when it’s raining, she said it’s very hard to hear the echoes off buildings due to the wet tires on the road, so it makes it a little more difficult to find where she needs to go. Aside from that, she said the most annoying thing today is still the fact that she can’t drive.
Walking around town, Terada welcomes anyone who cares to stop and chat. Her biggest pet peeve, however, is when people stop and talk with Pinta before speaking to her.
“What’s very difficult for a guide-dog worker, is some people, while we’re moving, will stick their hand out and touch her,” said Terada. “The dog’s head will then swing around, I’ll lose my sense of direction and the dog will lose focus. That’s very annoying. Ask the owner first. It’s nice when they speak to the owner before the dog.”
For anyone who shares a similar condition and is interested in getting a guide dog, Terada said the first thing to consider is your physical health, because maintaining the lifestyle of an active dog can be very tiresome.
Secondly, you have to love dogs because they’re at your side at all times. And lastly, you need a proper living area that will accommodate both the owner and the dog.
Anyone looking for more information on guide dogs can visit the B.C. Guide Dog Services website at http://www.bcguidedog.com/.