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Beyond the Call of Duty
More than mere household pets, these dedicated animals assist their owners and people in need every single day, from carrying out simple tasks to saving lives.
Most of us are lucky enough to go about our lives freely, able-bodied and without any barriers to physical movement. For people who are visually impaired or wheelchair-ridden, owning a service animal is becoming an increasingly vital choice to ease the physical and emotional burdens of living with a disability. Service animals also play important roles in keeping their homes and families safe from harm. Here we highlight three animals that redefine what it means to be man’s best friend.
Lashawn with his owner Stevens Chan.
Lashawn, the guide dog
Lashawn, owned by Stevens Chan who founded the social business enterprise Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia, is a seeing-eye Labrador who was trained at the China Working Dogs Association in Nanjing, China. Lashawn remains the first and only official guide dog currently residing in Malaysia. The well-mannered canine’s primary role is to assist the visually impaired Stevens in everyday tasks such as navigating roads and walkways safely, as well as being a comforting presence to his owner who was born with sight but developed glaucoma later on in life.
When pressed as to the difference between a guide dog and a cane, Stevens is glad to elaborate, “A cane cannot tell me if a traffic light has turned red or green. A cane cannot divert me from harm, be it an inattentive driver or a motorcyclist. A cane cannot help me navigate obstacles in the tactile paving around the city. A guide dog can do all of this, and most importantly, protect a blind person from danger.” According to his owner, Lashawn has been a protective friend and faithful companion ever since they met three years ago.
Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia is a non-profit organisation founded by Stevens Chan aiming to enable and empower the visually impaired community while spreading awareness to the sighted community. Visit www.did.my to learn more.
Zharro, the service dog
Zharro is the Belgian Shepherd companion to well-known newspaper columnist and disabled rights campaigner Anthony Thanasayan. Zharro aids Anthony, who has been wheelchair ridden since he was 14, in several different ways, from picking up items around the house and bringing it to him, to notifying Anthony of the presence of bedsores on his body; Zharro can successfully identify areas of skin in danger of breaking and proceeds to lick these areas to alert his owner. The dog’s ability to carry an extensive number of tasks and attention to detail is a result of a year’s worth of intensive training conducted by Anthony himself.
Apart from being an exemplary service dog, Zharro also has a profoundly therapeutic effect on Anthony. “Dogs see your ability, and not your disability. There’s something very comforting about being touched and hugged by an animal because they accept you for who you are,” says Anthony. As for some people who have questioned Anthony’s decision to heap more responsibility on himself by having to care for a dog as a disabled man, he has this to say: “As you learn to look after an animal, you learn to look after yourself. Dogs are the best companions for a disabled person.”
Learn more about Anthony Thanasayan’s work to bring Animal-Assisted Therapy into mainstream Malaysian culture at www.petpositive.blogspot.my
Latife with his trainer, Dave Teoh.
Latife, the security dog
Raised by Dave Teoh on his private farm in Rawang, Latife is a three-year-old German Shepherd that’s been trained to assist humans in dangerous situations and keep us safe from harm. Ever since he was a puppy, Latife trained to become the perfect security dog; starting with basic obedience training, Latife raced through the blocks and proceeded to the next stage quickly – guard dog duties. From here Latife was trained how to bite and let go of assailants, and when to chase and attack potential criminals.
“In many ways, dogs are textbook security animals due to their unwavering loyalty and good memory,” enthuses Dave. “Once you train a dog, they’re unlikely to forget their duties in different situations.” Dave also goes on to explain that security dogs like Latife are used by both individuals and organisations all over Malaysia to make neighbourhoods safer, carry out tasks that may be hazardous or difficult for humans as well as to track down criminal suspects.
By Erik Gan
Zharro images courtesy of Anthony Thanasayan
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