Show appreciation for guide dogs and service dogs

* Dawn Pilatowicz and her service dog, Shyann.

Dawn Pilatowicz’s hero has fur and four paws.

Dawn is a Marina da Gama resident whose service dog Shyann has utterly revolutionised her world.

“I promise you, this dog has socialised me, not the other way around,” she laughs.

Shyann came to Dawn as a two year old, seven years ago. She is the reason that Dawn leaves home every day on her mobility scooter – owning a dog is a responsibility and this? This is more than just
a dog. This is Dawn’s independence.

Once a year, as a way of saying thank you for the incredible support they are provided with through their dogs, Dawn and her friend Janice Salthouse organise a fund-raising event in Fish Hoek.

Every penny of the evening is given to the South African Guide Dog Association, and this event is a genuine celebration of the unique place these service dogs hold. It is organised and held by service dog owners.

“We want to give people an insight into our lives, teach them the difference between a guide-dog and a service-dog, and share the amazing ways that service dogs change the lives of disabled people,” Dawn said.

“These dogs are our lives. Without them we’d be lost.”

Dawn’s life was radically changed when she was just 29 – by the diagnosis of Polymyositis – a degenerative muscle disease.

“I had slow onset which means I’d probably had it for a while and just hadn’t noticed it,” she said.

There is no known cure.

Over the years Dawn has gone from being young fit and extremely active – building and racing yachts – to not being able to dry her own hair or carry her own cup of tea.

Today she needs an electric bed to help her sit up and her independence beyond her home is only due to her mobility scooter and her service dog, Shyann.

“We are well known in Park Island, Marina da Gama and I am very much the extension of her, not the other way around. She is a total social butterfly, this dog. But take her off the lead, and she becomes just a dog again too, and her many visits to the parlour are less about being fussed over than they are about her utter delight to roll around in duck poo,” Dawn laughs.

She says that people are mostly well meaning, but can also miss the peculiarities of reliance on an animal. “For instance, when people stop to pet a guide dog, the dog is always keen; and I love it because I can see and hear what is going on but some people with service dogs are blind or deaf-blind, and don’t understand why their dog is no longer responding to them,” Dawn said.

Janice explained her vision: “My mission for this annual fundraiser is to create public awareness, as well as awareness in business and shopping malls about our guide dogs, service dogs, autism dogs and their owners. We need people and business to understand how the dogs help us – and the challenges we go through in everyday life. These dogs are our independence and help us to function without having someone to continually ‘baby’ us and take us places – just because we cannot get around as easily by ourselves,” she said.

Dawn said: “The support these dogs give us, make them our heroes. Giving the public a glimpse into our daily life will be an eye-opener to many of those who think our dogs are not allowed in public. They never see how our dogs continue to support us, throughout each day.”

The fund-raiser doubles as a chance for businesses and staff to learn how to share their space with the variety of people who rely on these special dogs.

The evening will feature a talk by Mark Cussons and his guide dog Tokoa, in which he will share the movements of a day in his life, and how Tokoa guides him.

Singer Michelle Botha and her guide dog Panda will be there to entertain, and there will be puppies in training present at the fund-raiser.

It costs R80 000 to put a single dog through the stringent training to become a service dog, and they spend an average of 10 years in service.

When they retire, their person has first choice on whether they keep the dog. “Everyone wants to, but the reality is that many people cannot afford the upkeep of two dogs, and many service dogs need to find new homes. Luckily, there is a long waiting list of people who want to give them a home where they are treasured pets at the end of life of service,” Dawn said.

She said those who have service or guide dogs understand deeply how well needed they are, and their fund-raising event is a way to show their gratitude for their dogs.

“The costs are steep – but the dogs and what they do? They are priceless,” she said.

At R160 a person the night promises to be filled with good information, entertainment, great food and lots of working dogs with their owners. Held on Friday February 17, at the Fish Hoek civic centre, the fund-raiser is close to Valentine’s Day so it doubles as a way to celebrate love; for special humans and animals.

The night starts at 7.30pm. Book on: or call Dawn at 083 226 8250.