Variety

On a leash, but unrestrained in love

R. Dinakaran | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 03, 2015

A memorial for dead guide dogs at the Samsung Guide Dog School

At the school, the dogs are taught how to escort the visually challenged safely, crossing roads, avoiding obstructions and climbing stairs.

A guide dog with its trainer at the Samsung Guide Dog School.

Samsung1

Dogs' play area at the Samsung Guide Dog School.

Samsung’s dog school helps many hold on to life

Had the visitors to the Everland resort near Seoul gone up a little further uphill, they would have found a nondescript building and carried on without a further glance. Had they tried to investigate, they would have realised that the building belonged to Samsung.

But they would have not found Samsung executives or techies around the place, because though it belongs to the tech giant, it has nothing to do with tech. Had the visitors bothered to wait for a few minutes, they would have found a few dogs scampering about.

The building houses the Samsung Guide Dog School. But this is no ordinary school for dogs. The school trains dogs to assist the blind. There are several guide dogs school in the world, but what makes this one special is that it is the only one that is fully funded and run by a corporate - Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance.

As one enters the building, a few Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers quietly watch the visitors. One of them, a Labrador Retriever is now ‘retired’ and is looking for a new ‘home’. This is the third time the guide dog will be moving to a new home.

The first time a guide dog moves to a home is when it is a puppy. The school sends the puppies to a volunteer’s home for a year so that it gets used to ‘normal’ living conditions. The volunteer family is expected to take the puppy along whenever they go out. The puppy has to get accustomed to places where people visit normally - malls, crowded streets or other houses.

For the first time, the puppy, now one year old, has to make a painful move. A move that is also painful for the family that has taken care of the puppy for one whole year. But there is no other option, the dog has to get back to the school

The dog is now trained by the school to do what it is supposed to do -- help the blind navigate the roads and buildings of the city. They are taught how to escort them safely, crossing roads, avoiding obstructions and climbing stairs. Even minor slip-ups are not tolerated.

Once the training is complete, comes the second painful separation for the dogs. They are now paired with a visually challenged person - their second ‘home’. This will be where they will be till one of them - either the dog or the new owner - retires or dies.

The pairing is both a painful and beautiful process. The dog has to be made to understand that it has to go to a new owner -- with enormous responsibility of taking care of the visually challenged person. The new owner is invited to the school and given a room to stay, as the process of transferring the dog to the person may take days.

The visually challenged person is made to spend time with the dog in the room as the school staff slowly withdraw. When the new owner is confident enough, he is allowed to leave - with a new friend and guide.

This is the beginning of a life-long relationship. The school keeps away from the new owner -- the onus on maintaining the dog is now with the new owner. The school only keeps track of the dog every six months. If the dog develops any behavioural problems or is not up to the mark, it is retired.

The retired dogs are taken back to the school, and now, it is time to find a new family to spend the rest of their ‘retired’ life.

Termite detectors

There is another area Samsung (or rather the dogs) are experts at: It is termite detection.

South Korea is full of wooden structures and termites are a huge problem. Detecting hidden termites is not an easy job, but the dogs from the school do it with aplomb.

The dogs keep sniffing around the wooden structures. When they realise there are termites, the stand still staring at the point, which is a signal for the anti-termite crews. The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea uses the service extensively.

(The writer was in South Korea at the invitation of Samsung)

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Published on November 03, 2015
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