Lara, the black labrador who became a symbol of hope for blind and visually impaired people in Greece by becoming the country’s first trained guide dog, died on Tuesday night, aged 16.
The news was announced by her owner, Ioanna-Maria Gertsou, in a post on her Facebook page: “When I first held the handle that connected me to the dog, I was startled: I knew I was going in one direction, but at the same time, I felt an unexpectedly familiar strength directing me somewhere else. I remained standing in that one spot – it was the only thing I could do. Then, I heard the voice of the trainer calling out to me, ‘Follow the dog!’ And that’s what I did. I followed the dog. Lara: 03/05/2003-26/03/19,” wrote Gertsou, a psychologist at Aghia Sofia Children’s Hospital in Athens and a visually impaired activist for human diversity.
“The end of an era, the beginning of a new one. Lara, the first guide dog of Greece, the hero of Lara Guide Dog School, went [over] the rainbow bridge at the proud age of 16! Now more than ever we will stand together to fulfill your legacy,” the not-for-profit organization Lara Guide Dog School Hellas, which was co-founded by Gertsou in 2008, said on its Facebook page.
Working as a guide dog from October 2005 to 2009, Lara was a globe-trotter who visited many countries with her owner. She traveled 16 times by ship, 68 times by plane and on countless other journeys by train, bus and metro to participate in dozens of seminars in both Greek and European cities.
When Lara was training to be an assistance dog, the concept of guide dogs was almost unknown in Greece and the legal framework to allow them access to public buildings and transport was nonexistent.