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Strength Of Unity; Guide Dogs Foundation

Guide Dogs Foundation President Nurdeniz Tunçer says the more awareness we have about the fact that guide dogs are trained companions, the more freely visually-impaired people can live in society.

Guide Dogs Foundation is Turkey's first NGO in this field and it works to both raise awareness for the visually-impaired in society and for loving animals. How did this journey start?

Guide dogs have been around for nearly a century; they were first trained to aid the veterans of World War I in Germany who lost their ability to see. However, we have evidence that they existed even in ancient times. During a reception in Turkey, I met the U.K.’s Ambassador Richard Moore’s wife Maggie Moore’s guide dog Star. When I asked her how I could adopt a guide dog myself, she told me it was not possible in Turkey and said, “Let’s start a foundation for this” and we started to work on this. We began with awareness efforts and then trained our own guide dogs, with the help of trainers and instructors from the U.K. These instructers also trained guide dog trainees for our foundation. My guide dog Kara started duty as the first guide dog in Turkey in December 2016. Since then, we’ve been working non-stop. Now, we continue to train guide dogs with our own team.

Guide dogs are provided for the visually-impaired who request one. What would you like to say about being a part of this movement of “goodwill?”

Guide dogs are provided, without any charge, to the visually- impaired; we also fund their health examinations and food requirements throughout their duty. This is the case for all modern countries in the world; we volunteered to do the same here, and our foundation achieved that. We continue to collaborate with corporations within the frame of social responsibility to ensure continuity. Of course, our aim is to expand the scope of our activities that are a bit costlier, thanks to our supporters. We care a lot about uniting a visually- impaired individual with a guide dog. We observe that society is becoming more and more acceptant of guide dogs, partly thanks to our efforts to raise awareness in this issue. The more people are aware of the need for support to integrate guide dogs into society, the more freedom visually-impaired individuals will have in terms of socialisation and right to travel.

Can you tell us about the type of collaboration required to improve this project in which visually-impaired individuals can actively partake in their personal and professional lives?

Corporate collaboration is essential for continuity on the issue of guide dogs. Nestlé Purina ProPlan supplies dog food while Zoetis supplies their vaccination and pays for their sterilisation operations. Marriott Hotel Group hosts a number of our events and continues to support us throughout the year. Zorlu Center is the office sponsor of our foundation. Arçelik, the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey, and Tarabya British Schools are also our ever-long supporters. We’re always open to new projects, in addition to these corporations, that could become a source of continuous income for the foundation. As corporations build brands with a sensibility for social responsibility, they are more appreciated and preferred by consumers. Our foundation is special in that it actively partakes in the movements for environmental and animal rights as well as disability rights. Thus, the variety of events we could host in collaboration with corporations is quite rich. We’re always ready to collaborate with establishments that show high sensibility in social matters. Additionally, we’d always love to have volunteering caregivers who could temporarily welcome the puppies who could become guide dogs, in their homes for the pre-training period.

As someone working in law, what do you think can be done to increase social awareness for guide dogs?

Our principle is “Guide Dogs Everywhere.” Today, the visually impaired can visit all official offices and establishments with their guide dogs; a special petition we sent to all organisations to ensure this. Special regulations have been implemented in public transportation in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir to allow travelling with guide dogs; this should be expanded to all across the country. Besides, an announcement was made by the highways directorate about travelling with guide dogs on inter- city trips. We’re waiting for the accessibility law on guide dogs to be approved by the assembly. We’re party to the United NationsConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and are using our rights to be present with guide dogs in public spaces, means of transportation, hospitals, theatres, and concert halls. The more citizens and organisations are aware that guide dogs are trained personnel rather than just pets, the more visually- impaired people will be free to explore with their guide dogs.

How would you comment on the transformation of visually- impaired people who have adopted guide dogs?

First and foremost, guide dogs are our life-long friends; they share the lives of their guardians 24/7. There’s just no way to describe this connection and love. Besides, it’s a great peace of mind to walk around the streets, knowing that your guide dog will overcome any obstacles you may encounter. My guide dog Kara is everything to me; we often travel around the country together. Or abroad. We’re usually moving around Istanbul throughout the day. We’ve been to the U.K., Germany, and Ireland together. Kara is my partner in life. I entrust Kara with my life and am entrusted with Kara’s in return. It’s a miracle. They can communicate through the feelings and body language of a visually-impaired person; Kara is my silent hero. Inspired by my own guide dog, I’ve focused more on the volunteering work so that everybody can share this unique love and support. Would you like to volunteer for the Guide Dogs Foundations? We could never have enough people!


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