Cape Town – A retired guide dog named Donna "graduated" from Stellenbosch University with her visually-impaired companion, Michelle Nel.
Nel and Donna took to the podium wearing a yellow ribbons while Nel received her master’s degree in music cum laude.
Nel began her music studies in 2005 while she was already on her way to completing a PhD in Psychology.
“It was so special. It was the last time that Donna would be guiding me. She was on this journey with me so it was only right that she get capped with me,” Nel said.
Nel was born Glaucoma and explained that she can see shapes but she before registering to get a guide dog she walked with a white cane. Donna, a black Labrador, joined Nel in 2010 after a two-year wait from the South African Guide Dog Association.
“She’s so loyal and protective over me. People would harass me and she would take out her teeth. She was my guard dog and guide dog,” Nel said.
Donna spent eight years with Nel before retiring in November of 2018. After retiring, She went to live with Nel’s parents in Helderberg. Her duties as guide dog were taken over by another black Labrador named Luna, who was sitting in the audience with Nel’s parents.
Nel explained that studying with her disability was at times challenging. However, she held onto the belief that the only way she would have a better future was by education.
“I am opposed to the stigmas that are attached to blind people. I believe that nothing should stand in your way to achieve what you want, not even your disability. Everything is achievable.”
Mel said that she plans to help facilitate a career counselling programme to visually-impaired school leavers and help them find employment.
“The visually-impaired employment rate is 98% so I knew from early on that I needed to raise myself as high as I can,” Nel said.