International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
EUROPE'S YOUNGEST GUIDE DOG USER
PART ONE: Report from Austria's Certification Commission
by Dr. Helga Wanecek
His parents did not give up, like so many parents with visually impaired children do. They wanted to support him in finding out what he can do with his abilities. There are a lot; he is intelligent, his hearing is good, his spatial sense is good. So they set out to teach him to find his way, to learn all the things at school that other children do, to be self confident and independent. They were interested in mobility aids and so they came to our seminar in Bad Mitterndorf, Styria, where we organize a brush up session for guide dog partners every year. They wanted to find out if a guide dog could be of help to their son.
In 1994, Thomas was seven years old. He was very interested in all the dogs, and he was allowed to walk with a nice female dog. He loved it. Of course his parents decided that he would have to wait till he was older for a guide dog, but they kept the idea in mind.
Since that day, Thomas dreamed of getting a guide dog of his own. For four years, he talked often of the dog he walked with when he attended the seminar in Bad Mitterndorf - what an impression this experience must have been for this seven year old boy!
In the Spring of 1998, we received a call from a guide dog trainer in the Czech Republic. He had already sold several successful guide dogs to Austrian citizens. He told us that he had a female dog, a small flat coated retriever, which worked so well in training with his own boy, he wondered if the family of Thomas, whom he met in 1994 in Bad Mittendorf, might be interested in this dog?
We asked the family. They told us about Thomas's dreams and said they would like to try it as Thomas was now eleven years old. The rigorous health check we require for admission to the certification test was passed by the dog. When the holidays began, the family traveled to Prague to meet the dog and to start team training. A few days later, we received a message that the boy and the dog had gotten on well together. The decision was made to continue the training in the boy's home village.
In September 1998, we met them in Bad Mittendorf. At first, the trainers who participated in our seminar were highly skeptical, but after working with Thomas and his new dog, Cora, they had to admit the youngster and his dog make a very good team. Dr. Malacek, our mobility expert, also worked with our junior team and wrote a very positive report. On September 14, 1998, Thomas and Cora passed the same difficult regular Austrian Certification Test that the adult guide dog owners must pass. Additionally, his mother had to demonstrate obedience work with the dog and answer theoretical questions about how to keep up the dog's performance.
When Thomas is twelve years old, he will be allowed by law to walk completely alone with his dog. At the moment, he must still be accompanied by an adult, but he can walk independently beside the adult. With the assistance of his dog, Cora, Thomas is making good progress in enhancing his orientation and mobility because he has to tell her which way to go.
Now, what conclusions can be drawn from this project?
1. An Assistance Dog - in this case, a guide dog, - can be of real help to a child.
2. The circumstances have to fit, like they fit in this case: a mature child, an interested and cooperative family, a well trained dog that is willing to work with a child, proper Team Training, and last but not least, the willpower to keep the team's performance up to par.
3. If all of these requirements cannot be fulfilled, one should stick to a Social Dog.
Now let Thomas himself get a word in:
PART TWO: Letter to IAADP Members from Thomas
I am eleven years old and live in Nuziders in Vorarlberg. This is a small village in the west of Austria, near Lake Constance in Germany. Here I live with my parents and two sisters. I've got an interesting story to tell because I spend my life in a different way compared to most of you. At the age of one, I had an eye operation; since then, I've been blind.
In the middle of last year, a new very close friend came into my life, my Guide Dog, Cora. Together we passed the official Austrian Certification Test for guide dog users in Vienna, and so I became the youngest guy with this licence in Europe, maybe in the whole world? ( If you have any information on this point, please let me know). My Guide Dog guides me safely across the road and shows me obstacles of every kind. She also makes it possible for me to visit friends on my own or go shopping with my mother. We are already bosum friends. If there is anybody who would like to get in touch with me, please write me a small e-mail: email@example.com
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