Kara, which means “black” in Turkish, is a black labrador and Turkey’s first ever guide dog. I, as her visually impaired owner, am the first person to experience mobility outside with the help of a guide dog.
Some in the country are already familiar with guide dogs thanks to Star, the guide dog of Maggie Moore, the visually impaired wife of U.K. Ambassador to Turkey Richard Moore. In fact, Star may be even more well-known than the Moore couple.
Maggie Moore and I joined forces to set up the Turkish Guide Dogs Association a few years ago. I became the head of the association and we made quick progress, finding our first guide dog mobility instructor and arranging training in the United Kingdom. Guess what, Turkey’s first guide mobility instructor is a woman too. After having trained Kara, she is now busy training other guide dogs.
The world’s first guide dog school was opened in 1916 in Germany to educate guide dogs for soldiers who lost their sight after World War I. The first guide dog school in the U.K. was established in 1931 by two women, and now there are around 5,400 guide dogs used by blind people.
Now, this number is set to increase in Turkey. This makes me very hopeful for the future. People here should now be aware of and understand the work of guide dogs.
As for Kara, all those who see her cannot help but pet her. She has a note on her harness reading: ‘Please do not touch me. My owner cannot see. I am a guide.’ But people want to show their affection anyway, saying it cannot be a problem just one time. These are the hardest moments for us.
Kara and I connect with each other every day. Kara reaches out with her paw because she cannot make eye contact with me. If she wants water she pushes the water bowl with her nose.
Previously I did not have a dog. So I too am learning all the time. It is a reciprocal process. On Kara’s first day of training, we were meeting with the Moore couple when Kara started making a whimpering sound. I warned her, but then realize she was making this noise because I had forgotten her dinner time. You see, we both started to train each other.
Our experiences in the streets are full of different and fun stories.
When we first hit the streets I was afraid of walking alone and unsupervised, constantly making mistakes. Walking alone was a feeling I had missed for seven years...
Once a taxi driver did not want to take me and Kara. He was afraid she might attack, but in the end he came to like her very much and even wanted to touch her. ‘For the first time in my life, I love a dog,’ he said.
Our subway moments are quiet original too. One day in the elevator we came across a couple. The gentleman thought I was a foreigner. He turned to his wife and said: “Look, foreigners are training dogs, but you haven’t been able to train our son.’”
Of course, this was funny. But it was also sad, as the man thought it was only the duty of his wife to educate their son, rather than it being a joint endeavor.
Transportation officials are not used to seeing guide dogs, and they often stop us to tell me they cannot accept Kara without a muzzle, or I cannot continue without putting her in a cage. But when I explain the situation they ask their supervisors and we end up getting the green light.
So there are certainly obstacles, but none that cannot be solved with love... And women’s strength.