Charity going to the dogs

Twenty years have passed since the inception of one of the biggest soccer spectaculars in South Africa, the Telkom Charity Cup, which is the national sport’s way of helping children, the aged, orphans, the infirm and disabled.

On Saturday, fans will descend on Soccer City for the Charity Cup and once again 50 charities will benefit from the one-day soccer festival. Fans have already given to charities by voting for the teams they want to see on Saturday (Bloemfontein Celtics, Black Leopards, Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns), now part of the R35 they paid for tickets will also benefit the less fortunate.

Last year alone, R2,6-million was raised by this event. The Charity Trust, which deals with the disbursement of funds, nominated 34 charities to each receive R70 000, while 16 further organisations, nominated by the Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs themselves, got R15 000 each.

PSL CEO Trevor Phillips said: “This soccer event gives fans and players a rare opportunity to protect, promote and restore the socio-economic well being of the many disadvantaged people in South Africa.”

For many organisations the charity cup has become a lifeline. One of the beneficiaries of the R70 000 annual gift is the South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind, whose main task is to train guide and companion dogs for the partially sighted and blind.

The money received from the Charity Trust was used to train new instructors, continue with the programme of teaching blind people how to use a guide dog and also on training puppies to become guide dogs.

The dogs stay with the blind people for 11 years and are then retired to remain on as pets. The dogs are given to blind people after they have had a three-week course with the dogs at the association’s offices in Bryanston.

This is when the dog will bond with the new owner and the owner learns how to command the dog. Guide dog services manager Gail MacDougall told the Mail & Guardian: “It is like learning how to drive a car, when teaching blind people how to use a guide dog.”

The association trains about 50 pairings a year. The blind person is trained how to use the dog safely and effectively. The blind or partially sighted person is also taught how to take care of the dog and communicate with it. MacDougall said: “People who use guide dogs say that they feel independent and free to do the things sighted people can do.”

The dog also offers companionship and is a mobility aid.

The dogs begin their training at seven weeks old. The puppy is given to a family, who raise it for a year. In that year the puppy learns how to socialise with people, and is introduced to other animals and children and different environments. The dog is also taught to be confident.

After a year the dog goes into a six-month training course to be a guide dog, during which it learns how to walk in a guide position, walk in a straight line, and to listen to instructions such as turn left or right. It also learns how to alert a blind person to stairs, how to avoid obstacles and gets a basic awareness of traffic obedience.

All blind people who want a guide dog are screened and the best dog is chosen for the environment.

The South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind gets no funds from the government. Money comes from Telkom Charity Cup Trust, other corporate sponsors and constant fundraising. Purina sponsors food for the dogs. MacDougall said the money received from the Telkom Charity Cup has kept the 52-year-old organisation afloat.

The money goes towards running the association, breeding the dogs, teaching staff to train dogs and training instructors who go out into their communities to train blind people in how to use their white canes. The blind are charged R100 for the three-week training course and a further R5 for the dog. The blind person should be able to afford to feed and care for the animal, which is required to sleep inside the house.

MacDougall said most of the people who used these guide dogs were elderly. The minimum age for being allowed a dog is 18. “Having a guide dog is a big responsibility, it is like having a child,” she said.

Although they won’t be playing at Soccer City this weekend, Ajax Cape Town and Jomo Cosmos have the honour of kicking off the PSL season on Wednesday.

Newly promoted Free State Stars, the Mvela Golden League champions, have received a R15-million boost over three years from Bonitas medical fund and a kit sponsorship from Reebok for their assault on PSL.

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