Four Legs and a Big Heart

Profession: guide dog – interview with man's best friend.
Silvia Colombini

Interviewing a guide dog like Viola does not happen every day. In fact, her work often takes her all over the place and it is not uncommon to see her along the streets in the city, always very elegant with her harness equipped with reflective strips and a rigid handle, while she deals with obstacles, traffic and people. For this interview we had to wait until Viola was on one of her breaks between appointments so she could tell us about her job.


Picture of Viola

Viola, how did you get to become a guide dog?

I was born from a litter of Labradors. Not to boast, but our race, along with Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, is perhaps the best for this task, which goes back a long way, to tell the truth. Imagine that traces of first guide dogs were found in a Roman villa in Pompei!


Is training hard?

It certainly is no picnic in the park. I started when I was a year old and I spent six months taking orientation and mobility courses at the National School for Guide Dogs in Scandicci. The method is based on positive reinforcement, there is no coercion whatsoever. First, they teach us to follow instructions that are communicated with the handle of our harness. Things like “turn right, turn left,” a bit like your elementary schools. Then, we must learn to disobey, so to speak, to avoid accidents, stopping our master if he wants to cross the street and there is a car on the way.


What about humans, don't they have to learn anything?

They do too, whether it is my master and best friend, or others. Whoever chose me always follows a course where my teachers explain how to behave with me so that I can be of help in the best way possible. The others, when they meet me, must remember that I'm on duty, so they can't give me biscuits or pet me, even though I'm a very good dog. I must not be distracted.


What does the law say about your presence?

Contrary to our friends who don't have our qualifications, we can go anywhere. We don't even pay for fares on public transport. And if someone wants to keep us from entering somewhere, I always quote Law 37/74. In my opinion, all dogs should have free access to places like restaurants or supermarkets, but I don't want to sound controversial. Anyway, whoever doesn't let me in is punishable by law; that's good to remember.


What is the best thing about your profession?

By nature, I wake up every day wagging my tail. I feel fulfilled in so many ways, particularly as it pertains to my profession. Unlike colleagues who have not attended my school, I was specifically trained to assist and help my master in every situation. I want to remind everyone that October 16th is National Dog Guide Day, an important day for all of us. I would also like to add that, for those who see as well as those who don't, a dog allows one to feel and appreciate life in a way that you humans sometimes forget.


This is how our meeting ends with Viola, and it is nice to conclude with the words of a great writer like Milan Kundera: "Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring, it was peace.


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