My first memory and connection with the blind was the woven cane basket on my bike. This had been made at the Institute for the Blind in my home town of Middlesbrough in the north of England.
We had always owned a dog, which was unusual for a Jewish family. Although we kept a traditional Jewish home, my parents were very integrated into the town's activities and were respected members of the Rotary Club and the Freemasons. Thus, I grew up in a very broadminded home where it was natural to do voluntary work.
We were great animal and nature lovers and always enjoyed going into the countryside at the weekends. Of course, I was the one who brought home stray dogs and, since I was the youngest, I got away with it! All animals were my great love and still are to this day.
The first thing we acquired after I was married here in Israel was a puppy which my dear mother-in-law found in the street. She knew that I'd love it. Luckily, my husband loved animals too. I was known in Netanya as "the English lady with the dog." Very few Israelis in 1962 kept dogs in their flats; they were generally only kept on moshavs where they were used as guard dogs. Since then, we have never been without a dog and at one time, we owned three at once. This was when we bought a house in Hod Hasharon.
Five years after the sudden, traumatic death of my husband, I saw an article in The Jerusalem Post which caught my eye. It was about a Guide Dog Center being started in Kfar Yedidya by Orna and Noach Braun and Norman Leventhal. I immediately telephoned and arranged to go over there. I thought I'd be there for half an hour, and ended up staying three hours. Orna and I clicked immediately. I sat on the floor playing with Gal who was a year and a half; Alex, the Center's first brood bitch was in a corner by the washing machine with her first litter.
Orna told me about everything that the Center does. They occupied three bedrooms in an old house and the people who had difficulty seeing lived with them as part of the family when they came to be paired with a trained dog.
I told her what experience I had had with dogs. We owned a pair of West Highland white terriers at home, which I was showing and breeding. Noach took me outside to see the three kennels he had constructed himself. I was full of admiration for their enthusiasm and totally drawn to them and the Center, aware of the fact that being a member of a foster family was something that had always been at the back of my mind.
Two days later, Orna phoned to say that Noach was in Raanana assessing a Labrador puppy that was being donated, and asked if I would be willing to be the puppy-walker. Within half an hour, Noach was in my house, puppy and all, and that was the beginning of my relationship with Sandy.
Ten months later, Sandy returned to Kfar Yedidya and after six months of training, she was partnered with Nir Lion. Later, Noach phoned to ask if I would like to go and visit Nir, so of course I jumped at the opportunity. I went with him to see their final test in the streets of Netanya. Nir walked totally independent with Sandy. Knowing that I had helped to give Nir another pair of eyes was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I had tears of joy running down my face all the way home.
Six months after this, Orna phoned to ask if I could take a one-year old yellow Labrador called Quiz for two weeks until they found a foster family, as their kennels were full. She was to be kept as a brood bitch. Quiz had a very sensitive nature, and Orna said she didn't want to put her in the kennels at the Dog Farm where they helpfully put up dogs when the Braun's own kennels were full. Of course I said yes.
She had only been with us for half an hour when I said to Debbie, my youngest daughter, "She's not going anywhere now, is she? She's staying here!" And of course Debbie agreed with me. We could see that Quiz was very special. Of course Orna knew what she was doing! She'd spoken to me once about taking another dog but I'd told her I wanted a bit of a rest as we were very busy with the Terrier Club and showing our Westie bitch who ended up as a champion. But with Quiz, I felt that I'd really found my vocation – applying my love of animals to helping human beings.
In 1993, the Center moved to Beit Oved and there we were joined by another volunteer, Sheila. We decided to set up a booth at dog shows in order to represent the Center and to create awareness in a public which knew very little about guide dogs. We gave away information leaflets and answered questions. Needless to say we had our dogs with us – Quiz and Sheila's dog, Tilley, a retired guide dog. Our first booth was made out of carton, and the slightest puff of wind blew it down!
In time, we graduated to bigger things, setting up tables selling T-shirts, key rings and hats, and over the years the selection has grown and grown. We also enlisted puppy- walkers. I was in charge of bringing a homemade cake; after all, we had to eat! After a few years, Noach acquired a more substantial booth which made life easier. Both my daughters, Leah and Debbie, came to the shows and helped at the booths. They were very involved. We had great fun and Valerie Hinden and I sewed the first six coats for the dogs with the logo of the Center. These drew the crowd's attention, as we paraded round the show ground visiting the different breed rings. Noach would give demonstrations with a guide dog at intervals during the day. In the middle of all this, I was still showing my champion Westie, so I would run off to show her when it was time for my class in the Terrier ring.
In this way, we grew from strength to strength, going to dog shows all over the country, attending marathons, setting up our booths in shopping malls and also giving talks in schools and retirement homes. During these years, Quiz had five litters of puppies. Debbie was still at home and was a great help and the fact that I was a trained midwife came in useful. I also helped out when there was a litter born in my area, in order to save Orna coming over from Beit Oved.
My last dog was Abbie, a daughter of Quiz, and my favorite puppy. I knew that when she went on pension at the age of 10 after working as a guide dog, I would have her back. She was just like her mother. At the age of 13, her heart gave out and we put her to sleep in my arms in the house where she was born. So ended my 47 years with dogs.
Today I am an ambassador for the Center, wearing their shirts most of the time.
The Center has given me much more than I gave to it.
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