In January 2013, several representatives of the Latvian Ministry of Children and Family Affairs and of the Latvian Society of the Blind met to discuss the situation of people with disabilities and came to the conclusion that, with regard to the next decade, there will be minimal or no public funds available for the support of disabled persons. As there are currently about 12,000 people with visual impairment living in Latvia but only seven guide dogs and no assistance dogs at all, some citizens have sought an alternative solution to the problem. As a result they came up with the idea of founding a service dog association!

In April 2013, the Service Dog association TEODORS was founded and registered by two women: Zaiga Kļaviņa and Velga Zēgnere. Zaiga Kļaviņa is an experienced trainer of dogs over the last 25 years, and in recent years also of guide dogs for visually impaired persons. The first guide dog she trained is a Labrador Retriever called Teodors. For two years, this fully-trained guide dog has helped his master Aleksejs Volkovs in his everyday life. In this way, Teodors is a kind of mascot for our association, whereas Aleksejs Volkovs himself is its president. Velga Zēgnere had been living in exile in Germany and returned to the Latvian homeland of her parents ten years ago.

Although our association is quite “young”, we have already achieved a lot. Almost every day we receive requests from people with disabilities asking us for example how to get a dog, how much money this will cost, where they can apply for financial assistance, if it is possible also for disabled children to get a service dog, and so on. All these questions are answered by our secretary and press officer, Mrs. Anita Zvirgzde. She is a journalist who spent four years in the United States gaining valuable experience, and who has now worked for the Latvian Society of the Blind for nine years.

In May 2013 the Finnish Guide Dog School “Viiksi” gave Anita and her family a Labrador puppy named Olle to raise. They describe their experience of raising Olle in the following blog: Meanwhile Olle has grown up into a magnificent young dog weighing 28 kilos. He is part of the everyday life of the family raising him: during the day Anita takes him to her office at the Latvian Society of the Blind and, together with fellow service dogs, he accompanies her when visiting schools, summer camps and various events. This spring, he will receive his formal training as a guide dog.

Our association has received great support from Juha Herttuainen in Finland who founded a guide-dog school there. He has also helped educate trainers of guide-dogs in Estonia, and is now helping to do the same in Latvia. For his work within the guide-dog movement, Juha Herttuainen has received official recognition from the Finnish government. It would be most difficult for our association to function without his professional advice, as well as the continued financial support of our friends in Finland.

As previously mentioned, our association’s mascot is Teodors, a 4-year-old Labrador. For two years now, Teodors has worked for his visually impaired friend Aleksejs Volkovs, always being by his side. Aleksejs, who lost most of his eyesight in his youth, is now a social worker at the Rehabilitation Centre of the Society of the Blind. He helps other visually impaired people master their everyday life, at the same time showing them his own positive attitude towards life.

Teodors so far is the only guide dog in Latvia who has been raised and cared for by responsible people all his life. For most of this time Zaiga Kļaviņa trained and accepted financial responsibility for taking care of him. Last year, our friends from the Finnish Guide Dog School “Viiksi” helped to provide for Teodors´ needs. In this context, we would like to express our special thanks to Elvi Karttunen, Paivi Helminen and Juha Herttuainen. This year, our association will have to raise its own funds in order to cover these costs, as Aleksejs’ personal income is quite low. Approximately amount of approx. € 100 per month is necessary for Teodors´ feeding (BARF diet), veterinary support, training courses, and so on.

In early October 2013, our association had to pass the acid test, i.e. to organize a trail in Riga for guide dogs and their owners from three countries: Estonia, Latvia and Finland. The group consisted of six participants and their dogs from each country, as well as of judges and family members. The dogs and their handlers had to master a one-hour trail through the center of Riga and to go by tram as well. No one had ever seen so many guide dogs in Riga before! It was a sunny day and all participants were in a really good mood. In the evening – after the presentation of awards, a wonderful concert and a nice dinner – all of the attending guests and hosts agreed unanimously to meet again next year, this time in Estonia. We are grateful to all helpers and supporters, and our main organizers Gunta Bite and Anita Zvirgzde.

Besides the work with service dogs and their owners, we also want to help visually impaired children. For two years now, we have supported children with visual impairment to attend summer camps. One of these summer camps received financial assistance from Finland and could be organized with the help of our association. It was attended last year by two Latvian and two Finnish children and their families as well as two rehabilitation assistants. The second summer camp was EVS, with around 50 participants between the ages of 11 and 16 who came from both Latvia and abroad. Since 2012, four visually impaired children have also participated in EVS together with their teachers.

It was a great pleasure and an enriching experience for all participants to see how both groups- children with normal sight and visually impaired ones – were able to complement each other. This year, once again, we hope to be able to make both summer camps available to our visually impaired children, although this time there will be no participants and no financial assistance from Finland.

In April 2014, our website will also be available in English.

Planned activities for 2014

  • to do PR work in schools, events, summer camps
  • to buy and train a guide dog (expenses: starting from € 10,000 for a fully-trained dog)
  • to finance our guide dog Teodors (approx. € 100 per month)
  • to organize a one-week summer camp for Latvian visually impaired children and their families (about € 10,000)
  • to support the participation of four visually impaired children + two educators in a two-week summer camp EVS (thanks to a donation, the attendance fee for 2014 has already been paid)

Extract from the statutes of the Service Dog association TEODORS

The association is a charitable, non-profit organization. Association funds are spent solely in accordance with its statutes. Its members can be legal entities under private or public law.

Goals of the association:

  • to enable citizens with disabilities – with the help of guide dogs, assistance dogs and therapy dogs – to be better integrated into society
  • to improve the quality of life of disabled people with the help of highly qualified dogs, empowering them to determine and master their own life confidently
  • to develop training programs for guide dogs, assistance dogs and therapy dogs according to international standards
  • to create a network of puppy raising homes where these puppies will spend their first 12 months
  • to look after the association’s dogs throughout their lives and to make sure that they can spend their senior years with dignity
  • to do PR work, with the aim of reaching a better understanding in our society of disabled persons guided by dogs
  • to collect donations.

Bank details of the association:

Recipient: Servisa sunu biedriba (without the name: TEODORS)
Reg. No.: 40008208343
Account No./IBAN: LV04HABA0551036537614

If you want to donate in Australia, please contact our Australian representative:
Andris Zālītis-

With kind regards Velga Zēgnere & Anita Zvirgzde (Board Members)

Riga, January 2014

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