A dog's devotion to its owner is often reciprocated. It is even more so for blind people, to whom a guide dog is much more than just a companion. In Russia, these gifted animals are in very short supply.
When Aleksey Shilov’s guide dog Berta began leading him astray, he realized rather than a visual aid this might be more of a case of the blind leading the blind. A trip to a vet confirmed his worst suspicions.
“We found cataracts of varied severity on the dog’s eyes,” said chief veterinarian of the Euro-vet clinic Sergey Chernomorets. “We had to take urgent measures.”
As they say, a dog is for life, and despite the large cost of the operation Aleksey was determined to find a solution.
“I do not like to think about how much it cost me,” he said. “I took extra work and saved up my pension for surgery, but it was worth it.”
The surgery was a success and Berta is now able to see again.
“We had to stop the inflammation and then removed the eye-lens from the dog’s severely damaged eye,” doctor Chernovets said.
In a country with over 250,000 blind and visually impaired people, the number of guide dogs available is woefully inadequate. A training center on the outskirts of Moscow is one of relatively few, and the only one government funded.
There are up to 80 dogs being trained at the center right now. Their training typically starts when the dogs are between ten months and two years old. Many of the puppies are bred in the center itself.
However, the school is in a Catch-22 situation: it will not receive further government funding to increase the numbers trained until demand is higher. The demand remains low still, as many simply cannot afford the expense of keeping a pet.
In a country struggling to adequately provide for the blind, a guide dog can prove invaluable as Aleksey well knows.
“She is like a member of the family,” he said. “She is always in the same room as me.”
They say that a dog is man’s best friend, but of course for blind people a guide dog is so much more than that. It is a chance to mobilize and get back to living a normal life, which is why it is so important that more guide dogs are trained up.