Turkey’s second guide dog Combis starts training in parliament
Nurdeniz TunçerFeeling confident with the help of my guide dog Kara, she and I went to Istanbul’s biggest airport alone to catch our flight to Dublin where we would attend the 16th International Mobility Conference (IMC). Despite the sometimes busy atmosphere, Kara and I have always enjoyed airports because of their highly developed accessibility and the number of people ready to help. Together, we checked in at the front desk and found our way to the gate without hassle.
On the road, I was able to reflect on the Change Makers program, which I attended earlier in the day. In total, there were 15 Change Makers, they are people who enact programs to benefit society, and Guler Sabanci, one of the most powerful businesswomen in Turkey and a supporter of the Guide Dog Association’s awareness programs, was also there. During the event, Sabanci asked to pose with Kara, but my guide dog turned her back to the cameras as soon as they were pointed at her. I worried that I seemed rushed or nervous during the event because I knew I had a flight to catch, but I realized that the Change Makers program was a valuable experience for which I was grateful.
Throughout the airport experience and flight, Kara was passive and incredibly calm, even more than many humans who fly. But Kara came to life and became very excited in Dublin when she met Star, the guide dog of Mrs. Maggie Moore, at the welcoming event for the conference. Kara, in Turkish means “black,” the color of her fur, but I later learned that Kara is the Gaelic word for “friend;” I took this as a good sign for our visit.
Moore is wife to the British ambassador to Turkey as well as a long-time supporter and role model to the Guide Dog Association. She will be one of the speakers at IMC 16 and we will visit many parts of Dublin in the meantime. We were enamored of the city and we enjoyed the accessibility options available to us on the roads and taxis; it had the level of accessibility that my hometown of Istanbul is currently working to achieve. Employees of restaurants and cafes were completely aware of visually impaired needs and gave us a comfortable dining experience, inviting our guide dogs to lie beside us while we enjoyed our meals. For the conference, we stayed at the Trinity College residence, which had an incredibly peaceful atmosphere. There was also a park across the street where Kara could happily run around and play with other dogs.
The IMC 16 included speakers and international experts in mobility, focusing primarily on hearing and visually disabled needs. It was organized by Alan Brooks, who has been a consultant and organizer for the past eight years. Many of the presentations were informational, teaching us about the level of accessibility needs along with the public and private efforts to meet those needs. There were additional presentations on new technologies that are working to improve the living standards of people with disabilities through smartphone apps and other innovative methods. Moore was also there to give a presentation on some outdoor projects and share how having a guide dog has personally benefited her. After a well-managed and enlightening conference, Kara returned with me to Istanbul as calmly as she’d come.
Locally, I also wish to share the story of Turkey’s first blind advisor to parliamentarian Ali İlhan and Turkey’s second guide dog Combis. İlhan and Combis have just begun their four-week training in which they will learn how to work together. It’s a step that all guide dogs and owners must go through before beginning their partnership at home. İlhan has been blind from birth and he seems heartened by the relationship that Combis and he share. I am also encouraged that there is a visually impaired public figure who has reached such a high level of success and I’m pleased for the public exposure that guide dogs will get because of his position. Combis, I met when just a newborn puppy, and even then I knew she would be a successful guide for someone. She was sponsored by Turlough Martin, owner of Chateau de Combis, which is where Turkey’s second guide dog takes her name. Combis is also one of five puppies that were donated by Pelin Çelik, and only three of those five puppies were able to get through the vetting process for guide dogs. I’m not the only person who seems excited for Combis coming to parliament, but also İlhan’s colleagues who have granted Combis her own parliamentary ID card allowing her passage through the building.
Another big step for our organization has been the formation of a mirror committee which will implement the criteria for guide dog training. These criteria will match international standards for guide dogs and this model will make the process easier in the future.