Turkey’s third official guide dog pairs with an Olympic athlete

Turkey’s third official guide dog pairs with an Olympic athlete

NURDENİZ TUNCER

The Guide Dogs Association is like a child to me as well as to my dear friend Maggie Moore, the wife of U.K.’s former envoy to Ankara who has helped me found the association.

Every step of it excites and delights us. It was on June 3, 2017, in a seminar we had organized to promote and advertise our association, when I met Yusuf Uçar. After a brief physical assessment, his conditions turned out to be compatible with Aslan, our newest guide dog.

The former Australian ambassador James Martin Larsen and his wife Antoinette Merrillees took on the responsibility of being Aslan’s puppy walker family. On Oct. 20, 2017, in our fundraising event in the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul, sponsored by the Marriott International Hotel Group, Yusuf and Aslan, who completed their trainings, got their diplomas from their instructor Ece Önderoğlu. Yusuf told his stories with Aslan so well that I wanted to share them directly as they are with you.

“I was born in 1987 in the southern province of Hatay, where I lost my sight from glaucoma and started my education in the Kahramanmaraş Ertuğrul Gazi Primary School for Visually Impaired Children. At school, I was introduced to the sport goalball and I started playing it. I moved to Istanbul after I finished middle school — this way I could both go to high school and play goalball. By then, I was playing competitively in the national team. For long years, I served in the national team and represented my country as best I could. Finally, in 2012, we competed in the Summer Paralympics in London, and I came third. Afterwards, in 2014, I enrolled in the Sports Sciences program in Istanbul University and graduated in 2018.

I met Aslan last year. He was such a wonderful dog that we hit it off immediately. In such a short time, we got so used to each other that he became like a part of my own body. Aside from being a fellow companion to me, Aslan also became my roommate, my eyes, and my child. After he came into my life, I started recognizing my surroundings so much more clearly and paying closer attention to everything around me.

Before Aslan, I used to think that I had plenty of independence in life. However, only after I started living with him did I realize how much difference he made in the quality of my lifestyle. Compared to walking with a cane, I was walking at maybe twice the speed. I started to feel like I was practically flying down roads with Aslan. He has brought such comfort and joy to me that I can’t imagine a life without him now.

Over the time we’ve spent together, we’ve shared many funny and surprising memories together. One day, I was sitting in a cafe with a friend of mine. My phone was on the table, and Aslan was asleep next to me. My friend decided to take my phone and hide it in his hand, and told me to ask Aslan where it went. The moment I said ‘Aslan, where did my phone go?’ he woke up, put his paw on my friend’s wrist, and started staring at him, as if to say ‘Give it back now.’ The fact that he could convey so much meaning through his actions really surprised me. Neither I nor my friend had realized how perceptive Aslan actually was of his surroundings. My friend respected him more after that.

Another time, I was sitting in a restaurant in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district. Aslan, again, was sitting beside me, a little sad that he wasn’t allowed to eat kebabs. Suddenly, a girl approached us. She said she loved how Aslan and I got along, and after chatting about our mutual love for dogs, she said she would love to buy Aslan an Adana Kebab. Unfortunately for Aslan, I had to politely decline her offer, but it still was a great act of kindness that she would suggest it.

My relationship with Aslan is so important to me, because he has become like a son to me. The emotional bond, the love, and the loyalty between us are truly exceptional, and I am glad every day that he came into my life.”

From Yusuf’s sincere narration, we can see the important role guide dogs play for young people like him to be able to get out of the four walls of their houses and socialize with their friends freely. His dog Aslan has allowed him more independence in his life, which he fully takes advantage of. If you happen to be in Kadıköy and its Yeldeğirmeni neighborhood, you can often see him in the streets, accompanied by Aslan.

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