Dr. Drez Banai
A Seeing Eye dog is much more than eyes for a blind person.
My name is Erez Banai. I am a Clinical and Rehabilitation Psychologist, am 47 years old, married and father to 3 children. In 1984 I was wounded by a land mine in Lebanon and after several eye surgeries in Israel and abroad remained with a low percentage of seeing ability. As the years went by I lost more and more of my sight. In 2003, I decided to use a Seeing Eye dog. At that time I was able to walk by myself but my pace became slower and my walking, more and more cumbersome.
With time, I reduced the number of places I would go to and began using a cane. I remember the effort involved in going out to the playground with my little son or taking him to the kindergarten. Even going to the grocery became a complicated project.
The decision to use a Seeing Eye dog was not an easy one. I feared the difficulties involving taking care of it, the smells and the hair that would shed. But most of all I feared the stigma of a blind person, one with zero eye sight.
From the very first moment I meet "Hetz" at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Seeing Eye Dog School, something in me opened up. It felt right, and I was quickly overcome with joy and great excitement. We got along well from the start. We walked around my neighborhood, and I would enjoy the speed at which we would get from place to place. I began to walk more confidently and was overwhelmed with a feeling of empowerment. It took me some time to realize that something about this confident way of walking, both mine and my dog's, was affecting our self image, even though we were not aware of it.
"Hetz's" contribution to my life was more than helping me to walk. He became a great friend and partner. He helped me to deal with the difficulties and challenges of being blind. His physical touch, the petting and joy he brings into my life, his warm welcome when we meet in the morning, have become an integral part of my support system. Today "Hetz" is my partner on the hard journey of blindness, with which I deal every moment of my life. Everywhere I go, in every encounter with new people, he helps me break the ice and enables more flowing communication. In my work as a Clinical Psychologist, "Hetz" often sits with me in my office and acts as an assistant as well as an alternative therapist. Every new patient is welcomed with a wigging of the tail and clear unhidden joy. Many of my patients pet him, and he is an important part of my work.
Today, it is hard for me to imagine my life without him. He is part of my family and is loved by all those who live with me.
"Hetz" came into my life as a Seeing Eye dog but his contribution is far more deep and comprehensive. About three months ago "Hetz" was wounded in a car accident and is recuperating until he gets back on his feet. I feel his absence every morning and find even the simplest action to be difficult and challenging.
Dr. Erez Banai