Desiree Brockbank and Raela
Owning a Guide Dog
Written by Desiree Brockbank
I live in Kimberley and work at the Sol Plaatje Municipality as a switchboard operator. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and have been visually impaired since birth. Growing up in Zimbabwe, I attended a main stream school until grade four. My parents were advised to send me to Worcester so I could be taught braille. It was important to them that I be treated the same as a sighted child. I rode a bicycle, climbed trees in our backyard and can vividly remember always being appointed as the seeker when playing hide and seek!
Before completing schooling, I did a mobility course and realised how adaptable the human body is. Worcester is a very “blind friendly” town and the children who are visually impaired walk to and from school, unaided. Having a white cane however made navigating around much easier.
Unfortunately the pavements and roads in Kimberley aren’t as well maintained as what I had become used to in Worcester – our municipality isn’t called Sol Gaatjies for nothing! I decided to apply for a Guide Dog in the hope of less stressful journeys.
This has been the best decision I have ever made! Owning a Guide Dog has enabled me to retain my independence. Relying on another person is frustrating as your time is never your own and you often need to fit into their plans.
I recently qualified with my fourth Guide Dog, Raela. She is a beautiful yellow female Labrador Retriever cross. I had to make the very difficult but necessary decision to retire Nestlé, my black Labrador Retriever. I owe so much to her. Not only did she help me retain my independence, she was also the most wonderful companion I could have ever asked for! Unfortunately we all need to slow things down at some stage in life and it was time for me to do the right thing and grant Nestlé that privilege.
With a heavy heart, I notified S A Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind that it was time for me to get a new dog. I was contacted soon after and informed that the Association had the perfect dog for me. With much excitement and anticipation I got on the bus and made the long journey to Johannesburg. I couldn’t help but wonder what meeting my dog would be like and if we would get along.
After being introduced to Raela (a Golden/Labrador Retriever cross) I instantly felt at ease. She is a very friendly dog with a bounce in her step. Our first walk went very well and we have been inseparable ever since.
When guiding me to work, Raela acts as my eyes, ensuring that I avoid obstacles. She halts religiously at every step up or step down. At a road crossing, Raela has been trained to disobey my cue if it is not safe for her to guide me across. She is very eager to work for me and focusses wholeheartedly on ensuring that I am safe.
At work, Raela keeps me company and sleeps at my feet during the day. My colleagues have come to love her just as much as they did Nestlé - who doesn’t enjoy having a four-paw in the office!
Raela also fits seamlessly into our family and has crept deep into our hearts. She is very protective and patient with my two year old grandson and enjoys playing with the children in the neighbourhood.
Looking back at the beautiful memories I have of times spent with Nestlé, I am excited about what the future holds and I look forward to creating many beautiful memories with Raela by my side.