The role of the service dog is to help their owner regain their independence by helping them execute everyday tasks. This could be as simple as heading to the shops to pick up a few things or, in Viking’s case, as remarkable as helping his wheelchair-bound owner, Heinrich Williams graduate from university.
In fact, this 4-year old Golden Retriever mixes not only helped Heinrich graduate, but he also became the first Golden Retriever in the world to receive a National Diploma in Industrial Engineering.
Going back to school
In 2010, Heinrich Williams was in China for work when he contracted a bacterial infection which caused an abscess that pressed on his spinal cord. At only 39 years old, Heinrich was left a C6 quadriplegic, which means he has limited use of his arms, but full use of his head and neck.
Upon returning to South Africa, Heinrich spent years trying to find employment and opted to head to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in 2013 to study. But unlike his first time at university, this time around he was accompanied by an extremely friendly and furry study buddy.
Studying with Viking
As Heinrich’s service dog, Viking went with him to every lecture and class while at NMMU, always ready to lend a helping paw when needed. Some of the tasks Viking performed included picking up dropped study materials for Heinrich or opening doors around campus.
Viking is equally useful at home and is a great help for both Heinrich and his wife of 14 years, Deidre, who is also his primary caregiver. “If I need to take something to my wife I just say ‘Viking take it to mommy’ and he will also bring it back, whatever he needs to do; so he is the gopher between my wife and myself.”
Viking’s presence in lectures and classes every day made him an honorary student at the university. So when graduation day finally came round in April this year, it only made sense that he too take the stage with Heinrich and the other students.
Dressed in his own custom-made graduation gown and cap, Viking was honoured with the same qualification he had helped Heinrich achieve, making him the first Golden Retriever in the world to do so.
Heinrich recently invented the Qbell – a nurse-call button specially designed for people who can’t use current buttons due to reduced or no hand/arm function. But with Viking never leaving his side, we can’t help but wonder if these two will share this achievement too. Could we have the world’s first Golden Retriever inventor on our hands?