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South African Diary

May 27, 2003
South African Diary 2003

We just read an article about the inability of the Irish to
briefly tell a story. So claiming allegiance with these
articulate, fun-loving people, we're about to embark on a
description of our trip to South Africa (SA).

Two years ago, we received notice of an international conference
planned for April 2003 in Stellenbosch. Our reader Lanie
Levenson recalls our reaction when she read this notice to us.
Within minutes we decided to respond to the call for papers.
Still basking in fond memories of our 1998 trip to SA, the
prospect of renewing old acquaintances was irresistible!

An intriguing element of our traveling lives is the recurring
coincidence of meeting people prior to making a trip to their
part of the world. Meeting South African veterinarians Quixi
Sonntag and Helen Zulch at an international veterinary conference
in British Columbia in August 2001 was one such occasion.

As soon as our presentations on maintaining the guide dog/blind
person team and international travel with guide dogs were
accepted by the International Mobility Conference, we went into
major planning mode! Through contacts with the animal health
care community, we were able to obtain sponsorship from Hills Pet
Nutrition. Since Escort and Echo had recently been switched to
Hills Brain Diet for Senior Dogs, this seemed like a natural fit.

Helen was instrumental in obtaining an invitation to speak at
Onderstepoort veterinary school and Quixi was invaluable in
breaking through the myriad governmental requirements allowing
Escort and Echo to accompany us into the country. In addition to
the usual rabies and heartworm tests, SA requires a slew of
expensive blood tests. Import papers had to be filled out which
made us nervous, since they were designed for pets traveling in
cargo. Quixi's contacts with the import and agricultural
veterinary departments assured us that the appropriate
authorities were aware of our plans.

As a newly-inducted member of the Lions Club, Ed contacted some
of the Lions Club members in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. We also
made arrangements with Gill Taylor, the tour guide on our
previous trip. At Gill's suggestion, we selected a three-day
sightseeing tour.

A major concern was our physical comfort, or lack thereof, on a
14.5-hour flight from Atlanta to Cape Town. Contacting South
African Airways (SAA), we made them an offer they couldn't
resist! In exchange for presentations to their staff about
disabled passengers traveling with guide, hearing and service
dogs, we asked for an upgrade to business class. Receiving
confirmation from SAA training supervisor Paige Maddams, the deal
was struck! Now knowing we would be comfortable, negotiations on
behalf of the dogs were initiated. Arrangements were made to
have an SAA staff member in Atlanta take the dogs down the
service stairs for a relief break on the tarmac just prior to
boarding. Similar plans were put into place on our arrival at
Cape Town.

When departure day arrived on March 28, we left for the Fresno
airport with great anticipation. Accompanying us on this
exciting venture was friend Debbie Prieto. Arriving in Atlanta,
we were met by Helene Goodman and her friend Steve. With three
passengers, two dogs and five pieces of luggage, they felt two
cars were needed to get us to Helene's house. Helene is like our
second niece, and we were excited to meet her fiancé Mike Tepper.

Getting an early start the next morning and sharing a bagel
breakfast with Mike and Helene, we were off to the airport,
astonishingly all critters and luggage fitting into Helene's car.
Fortunately, as we entered the chaos of the airport, a friendly
voice greeted us. Stanley, a Complaint Resolution Officer had
attended a session we did for Delta Air Lines and helped
chauffeur us through the check-in process and security screening.
On entering the international terminal, we really felt we were on
our way!

Filled with excitement and anticipation, we were pleased to meet
Ken Rosenthal, CEO of The Seeing Eye, also on his way to the
conference. As usual, Escort and Echo attracted the attention of
some friendly folks. Renowned animal trainer and television
personality Jack Hanna was traveling to SA with his wife,
daughter, and friend and camera crew. Eva, a dog-loving SAA
employee, introduced herself and assumed the role of dog walker.
Quickly returning from this excursion, she excitedly reported
both boys did everything! Reassured, we boarded the plane and
took our seats. And what wonderful seats they were! With lots
of legroom for our feet and the dogs, with seats that
significantly reclined, big thick pillows and blankets, we
settled in for an extremely comfortable flight.

Too excited to sleep, we enjoyed chatting with Suzi Hanna,
eating, drinking amarula, a liqueur derived from a South African
fruit, exercising and reading our cassette book. When the
landing was announced at 8 a.m. on Sunday, March 30, we were more
than ready to get off.

Greeted by Kevin, another enthusiastic SAA employee, we were
whisked to a relief area for the dogs, then through customs and
immigration. Cape Town Lions Club member Arthur Bernstein, with
wife Fifi and friend Roma warmly greeted us and drove us to
Stellenbosch. During the 45-minute drive, they narrated the
surroundings to Debbie and us. Debbie was stunned by the level
of extreme poverty she saw in the ramshackle tin shacks lining
the road. Many native non-European houses have dirt rather than
grass surrounding them to more easily spot snakes in the
vicinity. As we entered Stellenbosch the scenery changed to
beautiful old trees and stone-lined irrigation channels.
Stellenbosch, a university town, is one of the oldest cities in
South Africa and classes are conducted in Afrikaans rather than
English.

Settling into our room at The Avenues guesthouse, we fed
the dogs and were off to our first social event. Our Capetown
Lions were joined by Stellenbosch Lion Dennis Swartland and
friend Sammy, and we all went to the Mug and Bean, a popular
university coffee house. The dogs were warmly greeted and
offered a bowl of water. As lovers of weak coffee, we were
impressed with a choice of strong, medium or weak brew.
Following this refreshment break, we introduced Debbie to the joy
of gift shopping in an African market.

Back at the guesthouse, we unpacked and enjoyed the incredibly
warm hospitality of hosts Wilma and Nevil. Confirmed dog lovers,
they encouraged us to allow Escort and Echo free run of their
beautiful fenced-in garden. As we enjoyed a cup of tea on the
garden lawn chairs, the boys explored the area, sniffing out the
scents of Wilma and Nevil's four canine kids.

In the early evening, Debbie joined us for a stroll to the
university conference site, where we picked up our pre-
registration material. The time passed quickly as we greeted old
friends and did a little more craft shopping. Back at the guest
house Wilma and Nevil made sandwiches for us and sent us off to
bed!

Monday, March 31: In anticipation of our upcoming talk, Ed awoke
at 2:30 in the morning wanting to discuss the approach. Too
exhausted to think, Toni fell back to sleep but was rather
nonfunctional when the alarm went off! After the first of many
wonderful breakfasts, the three of us walked over to the
conference center. Debbie went on a tour of Cape Town, while we
attended the first plenary session. The SA Minister of Education
inaugurated the conference by stressing the need for diversity in
education with an emphasis on inclusion of the disabled.

Prior to our session, we attended a video demonstration of
working guide dogs in Johannesburg. It made our travels in New
York City seems like a piece of cake! These dogs have to guide
onto crowded buses with blaring music, street vendors hawking
their goods, masses of humanity moving in all directions and food
for sale cooking at dog's eye level.

After three cups of coffee, Toni was raring to go, and our
session was terrific. The 30 people in attendance were
enthusiastic, and the questions were good. Since the total
registration at the conference was only 250, we felt we got our
share of attendees!

Wilma met us after lunch to escort us back to the guesthouse.
She was impressed with our dogs' ability to retrace their morning
route. That afternoon we had the first of many newspaper
interviews. Enjoying the wonderful fall weather, we lounged in
the garden until dinnertime. Unfortunately, when Debbie returned
from her tour, she was feeling ill. Not wanting to stay behind,
she joined us for dinner at the home of Lucille de Witt. Meeting
Lucille, daughter Helene and son-in-law Breda, was another
example of those amazing coincidences. When lecturing at the
veterinary school on Prince Edward Island last September, we
learned from Dean Jeanne Lofstedt that her mother and sister
lived in Stellenbosch, and we made immediate contact with them.
Breda is a professor of civil engineering at the university and
informed us that class lectures are conducted in Afrikaans, one of
the official languages of the country. Dinner was a fun event
during which we exchanged information about our respective
cultures. Debbie's condition continued deteriorating and she was
happy to get back to The Avenues.

Tuesday, April 1: Debbie's condition had worsened, and a
doctor's visit was in order. The conference planners sent a van
and Toni accompanied Debbie to the doctor. The diagnosis was
gastroenteritis, common with travelers not used to long flights.
He prescribed medications and an electrolyte replacement. Debbie
was in no shape to assist us with setting up the poster session,
so thankfully Wilma took on that role. Prior to the trip, friend
Dale Simmons had digitalized every picture and mounted each with
its legend. Wilma arranged the photos on the board and, after
lunch we left Ed with the poster presentation, International
Travel With Guide Dogs, and Wilma and Toni went into town for
gift shopping. Exhausted, but happy, they returned to the
university to meet up with Ed. Back to the Avenues to drink tea
and socialize with Wilma and Nevil. Escort and Echo enjoyed
running in the garden, but surprisingly; we could not induce
Escort to dive into the pool to retrieve his toy. Usually, this
is a favorite pursuit, but we think the pool was small and may
have reminded him of a bathtub!

The evening outing was to the home of Dennis Swartland,
Stellenbosch Lions Club president. Four other members of the
club and their wives joined us and Dennis' wife Jean prepared a
lovely spread for us. Jean works for a winery and the Swartlands
live in a 350-year-old farmhouse on an agricultural estate. It
was fun learning about the projects of this club and about the
local ethnic and racial politics. Surprisingly, two of the Lions
had been to Fresno on agricultural missions.

Dennis has an extensive collection of miniature trains and
everything that goes along with that hobby. Debbie, who felt
well enough to accompany us, enjoyed investigating the many bits
of paraphernalia, and we were sad to call it a night.

Wednesday, April 2: Although it was cool, we ate breakfast
outdoors and enjoyed the fresh air while being interviewed and
photographed for a newspaper article. As pizza lovers, we were
intrigued with testing the local fare. Wilma, Nevil and their
two employees, joined us for a variety of flavorful pizzas,
including a very spicy chili variety.

Later in the afternoon, Hills sent a van to drive us to Cape Town
for the evening event. We had the opportunity to meet with Hylke
Knoop, the Hills representative who had diligently put together
two fantastic programs. Not wanting to carry three weeks of dog
food with us, Hylke arranged to meet Arthur Bernstein earlier in
the week and deliver a bag of Hills Brain Diet, the food the boys
are currently enjoying. While sipping amarula, we spent quality
time with this talented, highly organized woman.

That evening's presentation was a class act! Hills provided an
open bar, a scrumptious buffet dinner and a glorious dessert bar
for the more than 100 veterinarians, veterinary nurses, animal
shelter workers, therapy dog program representatives and three
service dog partners in attendance. Rina Kronwright, CEO of
Hills South Africa, introduced us at 8:45. To our amazement and
great pleasure, the entire audience stayed on until 10:30. The
enthusiasm of the audience was exhilarating! Echo and Escort
sported their handsome blue Hills jackets. In fact, we ensured
they wore them on all future public appearances. We were so
wound up, it was hard to get to sleep that night.

Thursday, April 3: Debbie woke up sicker than ever. Having met
Kevin, the manager of the Crowne Plaza the night before, we
turned to him for help. Within 15 minutes, Debbie was being seen
by another doctor, who felt more aggressive medical intervention
was needed. She was in no condition to participate in that day's
activities, so Wilma came to the hotel to take her back to the
Avenues.

Fifi Bernstein picked us up at the hotel and drove us to a radio
studio where Toni was interviewed for a women's show. Paula
Wilson, Hills' public relations person, met us at the studio and
spent the next few hours with us. She had done a masterful job
in setting up publicity. We love to be in the limelight! After
the interview, we all took a walk on the Sea Point promenade.
Thank goodness for cell phones! While the sea gulls soared and
called to one another, we had an interview with another newspaper.


One of the things we miss living in Fresno is an authentic Jewish
deli. We had to go all the way to Cape Town to have a wonderful
lunch of chopped liver, chopped herring, potato pancakes, rye
bread and bagels! What a feast! Arthur joined us for lunch and
we spent several pleasant hours with the Bernsteins.

Returning by van to Stellenbosch, we rested for a while, and then it
was off to the IMC banquet. Wilma and Nevil graciously drove us
to the venue and surprised us when they returned that evening to
drive us back. The banquet speakers were good, but we didn't
enjoy the food!

Friday, April 4: It was very hard saying goodbye to our hosts.
They treated us more like family then paying guests. Peter, one
of the Stellenbosch Lions drove us to the airport where we were
met by Paige Maddams, a South African Airlines training
supervisor. Our luggage and we were whisked to a conference room
where we spoke with about 30 enthusiastic employees. At the end
of the talk, just as the questions were petering out, the message
came to vacate the area because of a bomb scare. It was another
beautiful day, so we sat around outside for 45 minutes or so
until the all clear came. It gave us the chance to chat with
Paige, who was delighted with the information about travelers
with assistance dogs we imparted to her staff. SAA is in the
process of establishing guidelines and our information was truly
helpful. We had a wonderful tasty snack before boarding the
short flight to Johannesburg.

The escort service in this airport was nowhere near as competent
as the folks in Cape Town. In fact, one nervous woman directed
Ed into the Ladies room rather than the Men's! Echo made the
fastest U turn possible and they high tailed it out of there!
Quixi met us at the airport and drove us to her home and showed
us to our rooms in her guesthouse! How luxurious to have a
house all to ourselves. The only thing missing was a television
for Debbie! Echo and Escort had ten acres to run around, and
they had a blast! After settling in, we met Quixi's husband
Julius and 7-year-old daughter Emma. Emma is extremely
articulate and dramatic and we enjoyed her enthusiasm over the
gifts we brought.

Saturday, April 5: Julius runs a dog and cat boarding facility,
and Toni got a heavy dose of cat fix by visiting the cattery.
The animals have a comfortable indoor and fenced-in outdoor
enclosure. Some of the animals are boarded for long periods
while their owners, frequently diplomats, move to another country
or take long vacations. Part of Julius' work is preparing the
animals for shipping overseas. .

Quixi is a veterinarian specializing in behavior issues. Her
clients come to her with training and behavior problems. Later
in the afternoon, we held an informal lecture in the boardroom
in the kennel building for several veterinarians and veterinary
nurses. It went very well, and Ed had to excuse himself at the
end to be interviewed on a radio pet talk show. Filling up on
Quixi's snacks made us less hungry for dinner at an Afrikaans
restaurant that night.

Sunday, April 6: Waking to another glorious day, we drove with
Quixi, Emma and Emma's classmate Taylor to a nearby nature
reserve. Ten or twelve friends gathered with their dogs for an
outing. Escort was doing a fabulous job guiding Toni around tree
roots, rocks and holes, but she wasn't comfortable, so decided to
sit in the grass and wait for the others to complete the hike.
Magdie, a guide dog puppy raiser, stayed with Toni and they
enjoyed a lovely chat. After the walk, the group breakfasted at
the outdoor tea garden. The reserve provides water bowls,
knowing people and dogs will be present.

Our afternoon visit to a local mall was interesting. If we
didn't know we were in South Africa, we would have thought we
were home. Shoe stores, clothing shops and a large food court,
made us feel right at home. One of the big differences was that
six of us ate at a mall cafe, and the bill totaled $12!
Returning to our guesthouse, we went to bed early in
anticipation of tomorrow's television appearance.

Monday, April 7: Up at the crack of dawn, we were off with Quixi
to Johannesburg to appear on Morning Live television. Toni even
wore a dress for the occasion! The interview was brief, but
several strangers recognized and greeted us during the next few
days. It's amazing what you can cover in just a few minutes on
national TV. During this and other media coverage, we were
referred to as disability rights campaigners rather than
activists.

As a reward for her martyrdom in driving us so early in the
morning, we treated Quixi to breakfast. After the long drive
back to Pretoria, we took off for the veterinary school.

We shared lunch with Helen Zulch, Cheryl McCrindle, who we met on
our previous visit to the school five years ago and several other
faculty members. Our host was a veterinarian named Tubby Veary.
It's customary in South Africa to refer to people by nicknames,
many earned during childhood. Quixi and Fifi are good examples
of this custom. Tubby told us he still lives up to his childhood
nickname! Lunch was followed by our presentation to the vet
students and veterinary nurses.

Having sat through our lectures in the past, Debbie spent the
afternoon at the mall with Emma and Taylor for a meal and a
movie.
On our way back to the guesthouse we picked up the happy but
tired, crew. While Toni packed for the next day's departure, Ed
interviewed Julius about his kenneling business.

Our final dinner in Pretoria was at the home of Madgie, the puppy
raiser. With a house full of dogs and cats, we were in our
glory. We had another opportunity to spend time with Helen when
she joined the party, and we all enjoyed the meal prepared by
Magdie's husband Peter.

Once again, we were struck by the extraordinary security measures
taken by the people we visited. We had to be cleared by security
guards at the entrance to the gated community. In addition, each
home was surrounded by electrified fencing.

Tuesday, April 8: Gill Taylor, the tour guide we met on our
first trip to South Africa, was our personal guide for the next
three days. Knowing our desire to take tactile glances of
animals, she organized an exciting adventure. It began with a
shopping spree at a Johannesburg duty free store. What treasures
we found! What money we spent!

Following lunch, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary to meet the
five young female elephants in residence. Sitting on the patio
drinking juice before the formal tour, we were startled by a
weird sound. Two tiny curious mongooses raced across the deck
and jumped on the dogs. Not realizing these were inoculated
pets, we feared for the safety of our teammates. Not to worry,
these critters were friendly, disease free and fascinated by our
boys. They live with a chihuahua, and must have thought the
Goldens were giants!

Gill dogsat while we visited the elephants. They were rescued
from Botswana and now live on 120 acres. The tour group sat on
hay bales while the five girls were led into the clearing. TP,
an elephant trainer, guide and raconteur, led us up the garden
path by suggesting we had to listen carefully as the girls were
led in. Amazingly, their footfalls were almost silent, putting
an end to the saying "you are so heavy footed, you sound like an
elephant." One of the fascinating sounds was the trumpeting,
which unlike their soft tread, was so loud it startled the whole
group of us!

Each member of the group had a chance to pet and feed the
elephants. Their ears are huge, blanket-like on the outside and
suede-like on the inside. Their tails are short and end in a
broom-like affair. It's a good sweep for flies. Speaking of
flies, they were attacking us, so Toni chose to join Gill and the
dogs while Debbie and Ed went on a walk alongside the elephants.
TP became Ed's guide on the rough terrain and they had a
wonderful time together. Waiting for Debbie and Ed to return,
Toni browsed the gift shop and even found a mongoose necklace!

Later in the evening, we settled into the Bakabung hotel room and
dined outdoors once again. An early bedtime was necessary for
the early morning drive the next day.

Wednesday, April 9: Leaving Escort and Echo in the hotel room,
we joined Gill for a drive through Pilanesberg, a small national
park. We thrilled with Debbie and Gill's descriptions of the
animals they spotted. At one point, Gill spotted 26 elephants
gathered together. Gill said she had never seen that many
elephants in one place during her many years of animal watching!
In addition, Debbie and Gill thrilled at the sight of giraffes,
both black and white rhinos, zebras and baboons. Gill related
lots of interesting facts. Did you know that each zebra has a
distinctive pattern? A huge variety of antelope passed our way.
We learned that antelope have horns and deer have antlers which
are shed as they grow. Tsessebe, are the fastest running
antelope, both males and females have horns and they weigh 300
pounds and stand 4.5 feet.high. Impala are about 200 pounds,
not the smallest of antelope, but very plentiful. Impala can
lift all four feet off the ground and jump in the air. Water
bucks have a white area on their rears which looks like they sat
on a wet toilet seat! Elands are the largest of the antelope
and kudu are the next largest. Kudu have large ears and white v-
shaped spots under their eyes, which helps them see at dusk.
When Ed used to do crossword puzzles, the word gnu frequently
cropped up. Now he actually was in the presence of these
critters. Gill delighted in a rare spotting, an African gray and
black striped wild cat, which has a short tail and is the size of
a domestic cat.

At one point, we left the van to enter a hide or enclosed viewing
area. The humans can view the animals without disturbing them.
Debbie, who collects pigs, was particularly fascinated with the
hippos, because they reminded her of her favorite domestic
animal! These incredibly large animals mostly live in water,
emerging every few minutes for air. They can stay submerged for
8 minutes. They forage at night on land to feed their almost one
ton bodies. It was fun for us, because we could hear them
snorting and blowing bubbles. We were surprised to learn more
people in Africa are killed by hippos than by any other animal.
They are not people eaters, but are oblivious to humans who may
get in their way! Many tribal women washing clothing in the
river are trampled and drowned by hippos returning to their
watery haven.

Arriving back at the lodge, we ate a large buffet breakfast. The
veranda and trees were full of small vervet monkeys. Some swooped
down and stole food from the tables. They were curious about the
dogs and followed us back to the room.

After a brief trip into town to buy more film and purchase stamps
and shaving cream, we stopped off at lion park. While Gill
stayed with the boy dogs, Debbie guided us to the lion
enclosures. Unlike TP who was an extremely descriptive guide,
our lion tour guide was not too informative, but we did learn a
bit about the residents. The cubs are taken away from their
mothers at three weeks to be bottle fed by the staff. In this
way, they quickly accept human care and human touch. In the
first enclosure, we held and played with six 5-7 week old cubs.
Debbie was reluctant at first, but soon cuddled a wooly body.
One little guy immediately began suckling on Toni's fingers.
These babies have huge feet, small tails and somewhat rounded
ears. Only male lions have manes, which they acquire at age two.
We learned lions have black at the top of their heads and the tip
of their tails, so they can see each other while traveling in the
bush.

Our next lion encounter was with six month olds. Ed stood, while
Debbie and Toni sat on the ground. They climbed all over us
licking and mouthing, but when they began chewing on Toni's
purse, she thought it best to stand up! After this hands on
experience, we walked through the park while Debbie oohed and
aahed over the majesty of these glorious creatures. Although it
was thrilling to touch the cubs, it was sad to learn that many of
the residents would be sent to hunting lodges to serve the
distorted needs of some human hunters.

Later that evening, we rode through Pilanesberg Park in an open
land rover under the tutelage of a park ranger. Many of the
animals spotted by Debbie and Gill earlier in the morning, were
again seen by our companions. We did get a special thrill when a
male elephant in musk, seeking a lady elephant, stood just feet
away from the vehicle, swinging his trunk and stamping his feet.
Our Land Rover stayed put until the elephant unblocked the road.
The male elephant usually carries his penis inside his body, but
while seeking a mate, the penis is extended and dripping.

We did not encounter free roaming lions in the park, but did
observe three captured lions who were chosen by the park service
to go to Swaziland to start a breeding program in that country.

Returning to the lodge, we were reunited with Escort and Echo,
who stayed back at the hotel. After supper, we returned to our
rooms to pack.

Thursday, April 10:The first order of business after breakfast
was a stop at another African market. Toni had unsuccessfully
looked for a skirt with an African theme, so bought material with
elephants to be made into a garment back in Fresno. We met our
first American tourist there!

The final tourist attraction was an African cultural village.
The dogs guided us through the five model villages where we were
able to touch the different styles of thatched huts and learned
how cow manure is used to decorate the huts. The stuff does not
smell and dries to an almost concrete consistency. We heard how
cattle were kept close to Zulu huts, but further away from other
tribal living quarters. Chickens and pigs roamed freely around
the area, but the boys were fine and even Echo was not
distracted! At the Zulu Village, Ed had his photo taken wearing
a shield and holding a spear. At the end of the tour, Gill
dogsat while we watched a production of traditional tribal
singing and dancing. Debbie was fascinated with the toddlers and
preschoolers taking part in the performance. The women were
braless with only beaded bodices covering their breasts. At the
conclusion, members of the audience were taken into the circle to
dance around the room. It reminded us of dancing the hora at a
Jewish wedding!

Lunch was a buffet of traditional foods: kudu, crocodile,
mutton, ostrich, samp (ground corn), beans, butternut squash,
many other vegetables and a variety of wonderful desserts!
On the way back to Johannesburg, we stopped at a shop to buy
buttons. Several years ago at a Fresno cat show, Debbie spotted
lovely cat buttons which Toni sewed onto a sweater she knitted.
The buttons were manufactured in South Africa, so we went on a
campaign to buy as many different styles as possible. Earlier in
the week, Wilma and Toni found several in Stellenbosch, and now
we could add to the collection.

Gill dropped us off at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and we prepared
for that evening's Hills-sponsored presentation. Again, there
was a fabulous buffet dinner and an enthusiastic audience of over
100. Although Quixi had previously heard our presentations, she
and Julius came to share the evening with us. Veterinarian Mel
Greenberg, who interviewed Ed earlier in the week for his radio
show, was among the guests. Guy Fyvie, a veterinarian we met at
Onderstepoort, was the engaging host for the evening. It was
hard to fall asleep that night because we were on such a high!

Friday, April 11: The morning was spent being interviewed by
three different newspapers. Hills provided transport to our
next venue, the home of Christo and Martie de Klerk, a blind
couple we met during our previous trip to South Africa. Their
home is gorgeous and Martie, a natural gardener, has an exquisite
array of flowers and plants. The interior of the home is just as
lovely. The de Klerks have glassed-in their patio, and we
enjoyed all our meals there. Martie's friend Christine spent the
afternoon with us and was later joined by her husband. Suzanne
and Jan, another couple we met during our previous visit, rounded
out the dinner party. It was a lovely evening, with good food
and stimulating conversation.

Saturday, April 12: Martie and Christo were elegant hosts and we
had lots of time to catch up on things. Debbie and Sophi, the de
Klerks domestic worker, walked to the market and just barely
avoided the downpour which hit in late afternoon. Poor Escort
was not a happy camper until the storm abated.

In late afternoon, Ken Lord, CEO of South African Guide-Dogs
Association (SAGA), picked us up for the last stop on the trip.
Poor Ken was run down from his frenetic hosting of the
International Mobility Conference. We settled into our rooms,
and then joined the eight students who just arrived for training.
Three would be getting their first guide dogs and five would be
matched with successor dogs. It was fun speaking wit them and
learning about their previous canine partners.
Sunday, April 13: This was a quiet relaxing day, chatting with
the students and with Arleen Lord, Ken's wife. She is an
incredible woman, managing the domestic end of the school,
nursing staff and students, and acting as a search and rescue
patrol. After a picnic lunch with guests from the British guide
dog school, we let Escort and Echo enjoy free running time. SAGA
is located on 11 fenced-in acres, so the boys were safe, or so we
thought. Escort always stays close at hand, but Echo disappeared
and did not come when called. Earlier in the week, Quixi
commented that Echo reminded her of an answering machine, because
his message is, "Thanks for calling, I'll get back to you as soon
as I can!" Arleen organized a search party, but Echo could not
be found. After 20 anxiety-filled minutes, he suddenly appeared
totally winded, as if he had chased a deer or squirrel. Although
Ed wanted to throttle him, dog training protocol required
welcoming him with open arms! Throughout this ordeal, Arleen
remained completely calm. What a woman!

In late afternoon, Toni completed her button shopping.
Participating in Toni's hunt for more buttons, Gill had contacted
the local rep of the Incomparable Button Company, who came to
SAGA with a whole array of merchandise. This final purchase
should keep Toni in buttons for the next five years!

While Ed interviewed Ken for future articles, Debbie had a tour
of the kennels and had the chance to observe ten-day-old puppies.
After dinner, it was the final packing for our trip home.

Monday, April 14: Unfortunately, we won't be around in the
afternoon when the students will be matched with their new dogs.
On the rare occasions when we've seen this, it has been an
extremely moving experience. Ken extended an invitation to
attend a morning staff meeting and we readily accepted.
Afterwards, we met many of the loyal volunteers who help SAGA run
smoothly. Meanwhile, Debbie went into town with Arleen for some
last minute goods. We were touched when Arleen presented us with
a bottle of amarula! After an early lunch, we said our farewells
and sadly went off to the airport.
Again we were met by Paige Maddams and escorted to the room for
our presentation. Amazingly, we met another person who had been
to Fresno. Regan, one of the SAA trainers, had been an exchange
student in Fresno during his high school career. How incredible!
This group of employees were much more formal and less
interactive than the Cape Town group.

Paige arranged for every comfort. With a long wait until our
flight left, we had a quick dinner with Quixi, Julius and Emma,
who came to the airport to keep us company. With a pre-assigned
SAA staff person, we smoothly passed through customs and
security. After a short wait in the business class lounge,
another SAA employee took the boys out for relief and we were
preboarded. This time, Debbie was also upgraded to business
class and we were all able to sleep for the first half of the
flight. Nine hours after takeoff, the plane landed for a
refueling stop at Cape Verdi, a group of islands between north
Africa and Portugal. Security was not anxious to take the boys
off, so Debbie and Ed were given permission to do so. When the
dogs pooped and the feces were picked up, the security agent
looked on in disgust.

The rest of the flight was comfortable, but we weren't able to
fall back to sleep. Upon landing in Atlanta 19 hours after
takeoff, the boys had another relief break on the tarmac with an
SAA staff member. The three-hour layover went quickly, and we
were delighted to have Debbie's flight changed to coincide with
ours. Arriving in Salt Lake City, we knew Fresno was soon in
reach.

Our neighbor Mary Jo picked us up at the airport at about 4 PM
and the cats seemed particularly pleased to see us enter the
house. Mary Jo and her family have become an integral part of
our lives, and we will miss them all when they move to Idaho in
early June.

We've been home for more than a month, trying to write this
account between several crises. A visit in early May to a
veterinary ophthalmologist brought the disturbing news that
Echo's vision had deteriorated to the point that his ability to
guide might no longer be adequate. The vet thought Ed was unsafe
and recommended retirement. Several local ADA issues required
immediate attention. On the national front, the Department of
Transportation put out a guidance for airlines which violated the
recommendations made by IAADP.

Let us know what you think of this account. Many wonderful
people helped make this trip a fantastic unforgettable
experience.

Toni, Ed and Furries