10 000 visually impaired individuals in Latvia but only 14 guide dogs

There are nearly 10 thousand visually impaired people in Latvia, but only 14 guide dogs to make easier their everyday lives. The “Acis iet uz skolu” (Eyes go to school) campaign is collecting donations to train more canine assistants, reported LSM's service on June 22.

The eight-month-old Joko is a dog with a character. Her current family is Liene Sternberga.

A dog has to go through a lot of training to become a guide for a visually impaired person.

“Tests begin at a very young age. The puppy is first tested before it turns two months old to see if it has potential to become a service dog. Joko was recognized as having that potential,” said Liene.

“These tests include – seeing how skittish the dog is, whether it fears heights, for example, or slippery surfaces, or noises,” she added.

Future service dogs spend their first year in a foster family, where they learn all the basic commands – not to jump on the bed, to eat and approach when commanded, to walk close to the owner, to stop at obstacles. After its first year, the dog begins serious training with the cynologist.

“Joko is now in her first phase of training, and around next January she is expected to start an intensive course, an intensive year-long learning period with a cynologist. And after this, they see if the dog is well prepared and make a selection. The dog chooses its next owner and trains all its life, in fact, together with this visually impaired or blind person,” explained Liene.

Apart from Joko, there are currently five more puppies in the foster family, and the service dog association “Teodors” hopes that at least two of them will be able to start their training with a cynologist. Latvian dogs learn all the commands in Finnish to prevent distraction on Latvian streets and public spaces.

For two years, Tonijs has been the eyes of Rinalds Krēgers. Rinalds can no longer imagine his life without Tonijs. 

"Earlier, yes, but now, no. Everything is so much faster and more effective. If I had to walk to work alone, it would take me some two hours, but with the dog it takes us half an hour at a calm pace,” said Rinalds.

Training a single guide dog costs about 10 000 euros. Donations can be made to the service dog association “Teodors” or by calling 90006788.

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