A visually impaired Cork woman whose guide dog was removed to partake in a weight loss programme has finally been returned, writes Liz Dunphy of the Evening Echo.
Lena Gourley from Gurranabraher thanked the people of Cork for what she said was an outpouring of support for her in the absence of her dog, Elsa.
“Even a four-year-old child came up to me the other day and said ‘You must miss your bow wow. You come to hospital with me tomorrow and I’ll give you one of my eyes, then we’ll have one each so we’ll both be ok’.
“If I was president in Aras and Uachtaráin I wouldn’t have been treated better by people,” she said.
Everyone from neighbours to post office workers to shop attendants rushed to Ms Gourley’s aid when they knew that Elsa had been temporarily removed.
“It was like having my sight taken away. I forget that I’m blind when I have the dog and I’ve really been looking forward to getting her back.”
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind said they were forced to start Elsa on a supervised weight management program after the dog consistently gained weight despite warnings, which was putting undue strain on her joints.
Rehabilitating Elsa has cost the organisation approximately €6,000, which has included exercise in a hydrotherapy pool to minimally impact her joints. The organization has also tried to support Ms Gourley with lifts out to visit Elsa during her six-week absence, and transport to mass and the shops.
X-rays showed some damage to Elsa’s joints and David McCarthy of the Irish Guide Dogs said Elsa would be unable to work with Ms Gourley unless her weight was managed urgently.
“Dog owners may believe that they are just giving their dog a treat, but dogs do not metabolise food the same way as humans. One standard dog biscuit is the equivalent of a whole Mars Bar for a human, so if giving a dog two or three dog biscuits multiple times a week can be damaging. Managing a dog’s weight is very important for their health,” Mr McCarthy said.
Although Elsa has not yet reached her target weight, Mr McCarthy hopes that with Ms Gourley’s support, they can get Elsa healthy again. Supplements will be provided for Elsa to help her joints, and medication has been prescribed by the vet.
“I’m confident that with proper management Elsa can continue to work with Ms Gourley,” Mr McCarthy said.
Guide dogs must complete a rigorous training process before they can be allocated homes which costs approximately €38,000 from breeding through to follow-up care. The Irish Guide Dogs is not heavily funded and depends on fundraising for 80% of its costs.
Ms Gourley said she was ‘bruised and battered’ from walking into poles and stumbling over footpaths without her trusted dog, and she has had particular difficulty on streets in Cork city's northside where road works have disrupted her regular path.
Cars parked illegally on footpaths have been another unexpected issue for Ms Gourley.
“On Shandon Street I’ve had to walk out on the road around parked cars, and I fell there and grazed my legs the other day.”
Despite Elsa’s love of food and her ability to ‘eat tripe like a horse’ Ms Gourley said that she is adamant that she will control Elsa’s diet.
“She’ll look up at me as if to ask ‘have you gone mean or what?’,” said Ms Gourley.
This article first appeared in today's Evening Echo.