Question: What would you do if you owned a popular guesthouse and had a passion for retired Guide Dogs?
The answer, if you are Mike and Sally Oughtibridge, owners of the fabulous Dongola House situated in the Constantia Valley, would be to create a Guest Walking Department and in 2009 they did exactly that.
Mike and Sally had an inkling that it would be enjoyable for their guests to be offered the opportunity of being guided by their dogs along the inviting Grootboschkloof River Trail which runs along the bottom of their property.
Guests have been walked by some real characters over the years starting with Paddy, who retired at age seven from the South African Guide Dogs for the Blind. Paddy was quite an aloof character who would choose when HE wanted to be fussed over, a bit like a cat but loyal and obedient. He was a pro at guest walking, never running off but as his name suggests just padding along at their side. His partner in the department was Weasel a robust little female who wheezed and panted her way through her days. She was always on the hunt for a cuddle or a scratch, quite pernickety with some guests but loyal to many others. These pioneers, both gorgeous black labs, passed away at the ripe old ages of 15 and 17 in 2011.
Soon it was time to “hire” new guest walkers and Sasha the undisputed staring champion of the world arrived. Sasha was a butter yellow lab who retired after a long, illustrious career at the age of 11. He was a real lover of human attention, an eager guest walker who would often take himself for a walk if an opportunity to slip out of the gate presented itself! His partner in crime was Jessy a 9-year-old black Labrador who decided one day to quit her job in the rather novel manner of refusing to move while in her harness. Jessy was an absolute bundle of joy and pretty as a picture. She loved to play and would dive into the river during her walks, but she never left her guests behind. Sadly, Jessy passed away in 2012 at age 10 followed by darling Sasha in 2014 aged 14.
Mike and Sally are pretty incredible people for taking in and looking after these dogs in their retirement years. Their time together is often all too short, and heartbreak doesn’t take too long to come around. Mike and Sally are adamant that it is worth it and they feel privileged to be able to give such loyal canines a loving and stimulating home once their years of service are over.
Current guest walkers are Suede who was put into retirement at age nine because she started to chase Shadows and then, ironically Shadow who was, at the tender age of two, fired from the Guide Dog program due to his mad obsession with other dogs. While Suede will barely leave a guests side during a walk, Shadow will go off and greet every other dog on a walk, before running back with a huge smile on his face. I am thinking that this cheeky chap has really wormed his way into his owner’s hearts on hearing Mike boast that Shadow is the friendliest and most handsome dog in the whole of Cape Town!If you, like many of the guests who stay for three or four weeks at Dongola House during the Cape Town summer like the idea of some gentle exercise. Why not join the Guest Walking Department for a walk in a nature reserve with views of farms and mountains or a longer ramble through the vineyards of the historic Groot Constantia Wine Estate. Suede and Shadow are on duty and ready serve. We get the feeling they may just make you want to “Stay for a While.”