A new six-legged inhabitant of Cēsis

This story is about one of the newest guide-dogs in Latvia, Dara, who lives and works in the Vidzeme town of Cēsis. Birthplace of the Latvian flag, and where composer Alfrēds Kalniņš was born and raised. Cēsis is proud to have an acoustical concert hall. To live and work in such a bustling town is the greatest joy a guide-dog could hope for.
DaraI met Dara on an important day for the blind – International White Cane Safety Day – 15 October. I was moved by her liveliness and youthful sparkle and, most of all, her wagging tail, the typical Labrador sign of friendship. I was thrilled to see a distinct similarity with my previous guide-dog Zane –also a black Labrador, and similar in character to Dara. This moment was particularly emotional because my first guide-dog Zane is living in a foster family for a while due to health problems, the reason why I was forced to rely solely on my white cane and live in a lifeless apartment. During the first test run, both I and the cynologist realized that Dara accepted me and we had to start training. And so we started our training in Rīga, amidst the never-ending traffic noise, not to mention pedestrians ready to barge into the dog. A great challenge and excitement all in one, because we still hadn’t developed mutual trust. Continuing our training, the dog displayed her talents and willingness to cooperate.
And now from the heroine’s point of view:

“One day the cynologist took me and some other dogs for our usual run in the woods. However, the car didn’t take the usual route. We stopped at a house and several people came out. The cynologist, who up to then had also been my master, got out of the car, opened my cage and took me to some woman. In her hand she held the well-known white cane. I immediately understood the woman was blind, so we couldn’t make eye contact. The cynologist greeted the woman, whose name was Beāte. Then I was introduced to Beāte, and she was allowed to pat me. I could feel her joy, and I responded in kind, simply by wagging my tail. Then something unusual – the cynologist gave Beāte a bridle to put on me and we went for a test run on the street where we were. I was most surprised that she knew how to handle me. That confused me. There was my master, but at the same time a complete stranger holding on to the bridle’s handle, instructing me to go ahead. I was unsure, and looked to my master, but she signaled me to go ahead and I did so, and she came along. Our walk was short, but I liked this woman’s conviction and confidence and felt that she knew what she was doing. We later started our training on the streets of Rīga, with which I was already familiar. Here I got to understand how important leading a blind person is. Complicating the situation was the fact that Beāte didn’t know our routes, and while the cynologist was accompanying us, I couldn’t understand why she was not holding my bridle. Continuing our training, I understood that Beāte was going to be my real master, but the cynologist my trainer.”

It’s common practice that the dog and its new master train with the cynologist in an area foreign to the new master. While this is a stressful period to the new master, the dog will learn more quickly that he is to lead and obey the new master’s directions. This continued for 10 days, and then we relocated to Cēsis.
Dara continues the story:

“We continued our training on the streets of Rīga for a while, but then the new master started to pack. I understood – a trip! And so it was. The cynologist arrived with her car and I was let into my much beloved cage and we drove to Cēsis. Beāte greeted me warmly, led us into her apartment and showed me my bed, which I carefully sniffed before settling in.”

Puppy Dara, August 2019

Puppy Dara, August 2019

The cynologist continued our training as well as obedience commands. We walked several routes, including one to work, the store, and other places of importance. Intensive, 2-week training! Well-known to me, but new to the dog. Dara takes over:

“Everything was so interesting, I wanted to sniff everything, but then the command, “no sniffing!”. Here comes someone carrying a bag with meat, I so wanted to sniff, but that Beāte! Nothing got past her. I’d love to continue to work, but so many temptations! People want to chat with me, all sorts of odors and sounds around the corner, dogs who want to play with me, etc. But such is my job – no sidestepping!”

Then came the day when the cynologist left us. Dara will tell it the best:

“What I least expected happened one day. The cynologist left and I was left eye-to-eye with the new master. I was somewhat afraid, since living with someone with whom you can’t make eye contact is completely different from living with someone whose eyes you can read. Another scary thing was that Beāte and I walked the streets alone. What happens if something goes amiss? I wasn’t used to rely on a blind person. With time I understood that there was no need for concern, that with Beāte it was just as safe as with the cynologist. Everything was in my paws to ensure safe walks without incidents.”

Although Dara has been with me for only three months, she is an invaluable assistant and best friend. Furthermore, she is a seizure-alert dog, and she can warn about an oncoming epileptic seizure, which makes me much calmer and safer. Let Dara continue:

“The first time I met Beāte, I felt an unusual aroma. People don’t sense it, but my dog’s nose does. When I sense this aroma, I warn my master. After a while Beāte becomes drowsy, avoids noises. Later, when she mentioned this to the cynologist, it turned out that I can sense oncoming minor epileptic seizures. So that’s my life’s mission – to help people when and where I can. Of course, my master never forgets to praise me. I also help Beāte by jumping into the bath so she can rinse the salt used to clear the streets off my paws. While initially I didn’t like this, later I understood that washing off the salt reduces the irritation it causes. I thank her for this by wagging my tail, of course!”

Dara Puppy Dara, August 2019[/caption]I can also thank Dara, and not only for warning me. In her brief work history, she has saved me from passing cars and oncoming sidewalk snow-clearing tractors. But the biggest surprise is Dara’s ability to adjust to Latvia’s quick changing weather conditions: deep snow one day, the following day combined snow and water, then ice. Dara accepts everything and patiently fulfills her job, even holding me up when I’ve slid on ice. Without the dog, I would have fallen, and perhaps been injured. Despite Dara’s smallish stature, she has enough strength and energy for both of us. Working with Dara and her joy of life and energy are the best vitamins for healthy life! But there’s more to do. We have yet to attend a concert, learn more routes, develop complete trust in one another, and most importantly, Dara must become acquainted with the organ, as her master is the only blind organist in Latvia, who also teaches singing at a center for people with mental disorders. Dara will become a professional music listener. I wish Dara luck in completing the international guide-dog exam, and afterward friends, experiences and, above all, her master’s love as payment for the effort put into her work. Don’t forget, Dara, that you must also love your master, and you will be the happiest dog of all!

“Of course, how else other than boom, boom, boom with my tail wagging on the floor!”

Beāte Bringule, January 30th, 2022