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Merlin is more than a guide dog

It was International Assistance Dog Week from August 6 to 12.

To Magda Barker from Impala Park, Merlin, her guide dog, is not only her eyes but also her companion.

In light of International Assistance Dog Week, celebrated from August 6 to 12, the Boksburg Advertiser spoke to Barker about Merlin.

Barker always had poor vision. She has retinitis pigmentosa, a disease damaging the black wall of the eye (retina).

In her case, she had limited vision until she was about 40.

With his friendly face and wiggling tail, the seven-year-old Labrador helps Barker walk on the streets and get to the shops with a simple command.

Before she recently retired, Barker depended a lot on Merlin when she worked at Standard Bank.

“I needed Merlin because I had to take the bus to my workplace from here and walk a few blocks. It’s also a big open-plan office. There are a lot of rooms and escalators. It’s a struggle without a dog. People are busy and can’t always assist.”

Now that Barker has retired, the two will walk the streets for exercise. Merlin will also help her get to shopping centres.

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“Even just walking the dog helps people to realise you can’t see. Sometimes, if you ask somebody for assistance, they don’t understand why. They think I can see what I’m asking about is right there, but I can’t,” she said.

Merlin is her fourth guide dog. She got the dogs from the SA Guide Dogs Association.

Before Barker got a guide dog, she walked with a cane but is much more comfortable walking with a dog.

“The dogs are very aware that they have to guide you. They also help you socially because people will ask you about the dog.”

She said Merlin was obedient and would quietly lie down in a restaurant.

“Merlin is welcome at most places, but the owners of restaurants and shops have the right to say he is not allowed inside. I will contact the restaurant to confirm Merlin is welcome if we have never been there.”

Barker said the dogs train for six months, and she had no trouble trusting a dog.

The guide dog will learn routes. For example, when Barker worked at Standard Bank, she could command Merlin to take her to her desk and particular rooms.

“Getting lost is part of my life, and it’s not a traumatic experience. Luckily, I have Siri now. If I’m unsure of where I am, I can ask Siri. ”

She said the Guide Dog Association tries their best to make these dogs affordable by getting sponsors. Barker paid R250 for Merlin and a contract fee.

“The dog is yours, but you have it under contract. The SA Guide Dog Association will come to check up on the dog and can take it away if it is in poor condition.”

For more information about guide dogs, visit guidedog.org.za.

ALSO READ: SA Guide-Dogs Association hosts Ladies Tea event


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