Puppies raised in Malta ‘graduate’ in Messina

Created on: 30 May 2016

Two guide dog puppies that were raised locally arrived last night from Messina, Sicily, where they were officially handed over to their new guide dog partners in a moving ceremony at city hall.

The two new ‘teams’ are Michael Scerri from Xagħra, Gozo, and his guide dog Justy, and Joseph Vella from Marsaxlokk and his guide dog Juno. The Fleming family that puppy raised Justy and Charlene Darmanin, who along with her husband David raised Juno, were present at the handing over ceremony in Messina.

Also present were Malta Guide Dogs Foundation Chairman Leone Sciberras and Hon Secretary Lilibeth Cachia.

Justy and Juno were initially brought to Malta in August, 2014, from a breeding centre in France and after they were a year old were taken to the Helen Keller Regional Centre Guide Dog School of the Italian Blind Union last June, where they were entrusted to two professional trainers, Francesco Cucinotta (who has trained other guide dogs currently in service in Malta) and Giovanni Visalli Garufi.

For Michael, a civil servant, this is his second guide dog after his first guide dog, Pixy, was retired. For Joseph, a father of three who is a database administrator, this is his first guide dog. Both men spent two weeks in Messina bonding with their guide dogs and learning how to be proficient guide dog handlers.

Joseph remarked that he now feels confident entrusting Juno to work with him as he commutes every day on public transport and on foot to the office.

Mr Sciberras expressed satisfaction that the two puppies have been successfully matched with local handlers: “We have now started a phase in the lifecycle of the MGDF when guide dogs currently in service will be retiring either for age reasons or for other reasons, so we will be seeking to replace a number of these dogs over a period of time.

“We also renew our appeal to those suffering from visual impairment who wish to obtain new freedom and independence through OM (orientation and mobility training) and eventually wish to have a guide dog to approach the MGDF. We provide this service free of charge to them.”

Mr Sciberras thanked the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), which is covering the travelling expenses, and Borg Cardona & Co. Ltd, who supplied Royal Canin dog food for free to the puppies. For more information visit www.maltaguidedogs.org.mt.