Guide Dogs: Access All Areas

by Kerry on April 29, 2015

You love your dog, they bring incredible happiness and are part of the family, but would you trust them with your life everyday?

Actually, this is what the visually impaired people who are Guide Dog Handlers do every time they go out with their Guide Dog.

April 29th is International Guide Dogs day. As part of the lead up Guide Dogs Victoria, has an “Access all Areas” campaign to raise awareness of the prejudice and distraction faced by working dogs and their handlers.

As part of the event, I was privileged to have a Guide Dog leading me (blindfold) through the busy Melbourne streets, and learn first-hand what it’ like to trust your life to a dog.

But we’ll come back to this shortly – first, I want to introduce David and Ollie.

Access All Areas Experience with Guide Dogs VictoriaGuide Dog Ollie

Meet David and his Guide Dog Ollie

David is a married man with two children of four and six… and a three-year old guide dog, Oliver. Among many other things, he runs a business, attends meetings, and catches planes – the latter made possible because of the help Ollie gives him.

David has a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa and is legally blind. But because his vision has deteriorated slowly since childhood, David hadn’t realized how his world had shrunk – until he got Ollie. Simple things like grocery shopping or collecting kids from daycare had become too risky, stressful, or hard…but Ollie changed all that.

David and Guide Dog Ollie in the Melbourne CBD

With Ollie’s assistance to avoid obstacles and guide, David has been able to reclaim many family and personal tasks and get his independence back. In addition, his family worries less, knowing David is in safe paws when he’s out.

Ollie has been with David a year. It takes a long time for dog and handler to understand and come to fully trust one another so David and Ollie are now coming into this. This is not a quick process, but it is a life-changing one, which is why I was so thrilled to experience being guided by Woodrow.

Ollie skillfully navigates David between sidewalk obstaclesOllie skillfully navigates David between sidewalk obstacles

My Guided Experience through Melbourne

Woodrow is a Guide Dog under training, and did a magnificent job. Once blindfolded, I hadn’t realized how vulnerable it would feel placing my trust in a Guide Dog. But guide me he did. Woodrow changed direction so subtly that at time I didn’t realize I was altering my course. For example, I had no idea we had navigated around a park bench – until I saw the video that had been taken.

The other thing that struck home was how much the city noises hampered my hearing. The traffic sounds confused me, such that I could hear the audible traffic crossing signals, trams, traffic and people but had no clue how far away they were or which specific direction they were coming from.

You all know I love all dogs, but through this experience I gained even more admiration for the amazing Guide Dogs that are both family member and essential assistant. Not only is their job a difficult one, but it is made more so by other people’s actions.

Learning how to work with a Guide Dog ~ Melbourne Access All AreasLearning how to work with a Guide Dog

Discrimination against Guide Dogs and their Handlers

Legally Guide Dogs and their Handers are allowed just about everywhere, which includes public transport, concert halls, restaurants, and cinemas. However, discrimination can be a subtle thing, and I was shocked and saddened to learn that two out of every three handlers suffer it on a regular basis.

One subtle form of discrimination is a business with a cluttered floor, which makes it too dangerous for a blind person to enter. Many times the discrimination is more obvious, such as putting a Guide Dog Handler in less favourable seating near the kitchen or toilets of a restaurant.

Indeed, David sited a specific problem with taxis – a vital means of getting around for a blind person. He’s aware many taxis fail to stop for Guide Dog Handlers, preferring to pick up the next fare instead. Indeed, hard as it is to comprehend such behaviour, David once had Uber services booked for him, only to have them turn up, refuse to take him, and drive away…hence the importance of the “Access all Areas” campaign.

As a Guide Dog, Ollie, are legally are allowed just about everywhere

Three Golden Rules

It may come as a surprise to you, but even dog lovers aren’t immune to creating problems for Guide Dogs. The trouble is they are such gorgeous dogs we want to fuss on them, which is a major distraction for a working dog. Indeed, worse still are dog-on-dog injuries – a major reason for early retirement of these fantastic animals.

As a result of my experience, I’ve put together the ‘Guide Dog Golden Rules’

Guide Dog Golden Rules - Puppy Tales

Rule 1: Don’t Distract the Guide Dog

This is the most obvious of the rules, and one that it seems many people are now aware of, but on occasion choose to ignore. A Guide Dog in harness is working, and to pat, talk, or whistle to them is a distraction. As David explained to me, many people say, “I know I’m not supposed to touch your dog but I can’t resist.” – Hence acknowledging they are wrong but still behaving in a selfish manner.

Rule 2: Control Your Own Dog

One working Guide Dog every month is attacked by an off-lead dog. This is unspeakably traumatic for the handler, and (physical injuries aside) can seriously impair the working dog’s confidence. Indeed, dog attacks are a major reason for early retirement of Guide Dogs, which represents a huge loss to the handler and a huge drain on the training organizations. One particular flash point is dogs off lead near their home. The familiarity of the casual “comfort” break means the dog owner is often relaxed and not fully alert to the threat their dog poses to others. Keep your dog (even friendly ones) on a lead around Guide Dogs, and if your dog isn’t friendly, cross the road to avoid them.

Rule 3: Allow Access all Areas

If you run a business make sure it’s accessible to Guide Dogs and their Handlers. Apart from anything else, it makes good business sense. The blind are a community and will recommend Guide Dog friendly places to their friends and family – drumming up extra trade.

Allow Guide Dogs and their Handlers Access All AreasDavid & Ollie frequently cafes they know they are welcomed

An extra rule… At this point I’m going to add an extra rule, one based on observing David and Ollie at work…something I realise I’m guilty of. Being a dog lover I’m naturally drawn to the dog in the team. This means I might “forget” the human on the other end of the harness. After spending an afternoon with David it seems my habit is not unusual. So be considerate and…

Rule 4: Acknowledge the Handler

Yes, the dog is gorgeous, but be sure to include person right there in your in conversation whilst lavishing attention on their four-legged partner. Chat to the Handler, ask them how their day is going, ask if they need assistance, and offer help were necessary.

A Team Effort

Being with David and Ollie helped me appreciate just what a team effort this is, with each having different skills. For example, David plans how to get from A to B and when to cross a road, but it’s Ollie who judges distances, separation between objects, heights, and hazards to choose a safe path forwards.

David and his Guide Ollie stopped off for a quick bit of shopping

And you too can play your part in this team by following the golden rules, and providing “Access all Areas”.

Access All Areas Experience with Guide Dogs VictoriaWith Trainee Guide Dog Woodrow

I would like to extend my special thanks and appreciation to David & Ollie, Ed (Guide Dogs Victoria Trainer) and of course, Woodrow (Guide Dog under training).

Guide Dogs- Access All Areas 

 

 

 

 

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Headshot of Kerry MartinKerry Martin is 'Top Dog' here at Puppy Tales. With her own adored dog Keiko, she completely gets that your four legged furry buddy is absolutely part of the family. That they sleep on the bed, that you want to take them everywhere, that you plan holidays so they’re included and that their presence makes your life incredible. Kerry Martin is also the photographer behind Akemi Photography. Akemi Photography specialises in photographing pets and the people who love them. Sessions are conducted both in studio and on location to truly capture the incredible and unique personality of your ‘furkid’. Akemi Photography  -  Instagram  -  Facebook
  • barxactive

    Love this post! Such great points you made. Thanks for the amazing insight

  • Lovely post. I don’t have a dog, but this definitely made me more aware of guide dogs out and about, and of course their owners. Thanks for this 🙂

    • Hey Kelly, Thanks for dropping by to read and to leave a comment. Increasing awareness is huge for the Guide Dog bodies so it’s great for non-dog owners to be aware!

  • Joanna

    I have so so much respect for guide dogs and everyone involved in their training and care. My mother in law has raised 9 guide dog puppies and is considering number 10. This is a great post, as I think a lot of the time the discrimination you mentioned (like cluttered environments) is just thoughtlessness rather than deliberate, so increasing awareness is really important.

  • Tracie McGregor

    Do guide dogs ever get to run and play? Who takes them out for a walk or a game without the harness? Who checks up on their welfare when they get home? Are they given to people who don’t actually like dogs, or whose religion considers them “dirty”? How are they treated when they are out of the public eye? I’ve seen examples of people swearing at their guide dogs and these poor dogs never look happy. I’ve had one guide dog push his face into my hand at a supermarket, while he was working, obviously starved for affection, and his “handler” wasn’t too happy about it. We need to remember these are sentient beings who have needs too and are not just machines here to serve humans.

    • Hi Tracie, What you’ve described certainly wasn’t my experience when out and about with the David and Oliver, and with the trainee guide dog Woodrow. During our time together, David and I spoke about the home life that Ollie has. Guide dogs ‘work’ when they leave the home with their handler and dressed in a harness. So when they are at home they are part of the family, and Ollie is the family dog. Some of the things David shared was that Ollie is ‘just’ a crazy Labrador at home – he throws toys at the family to come and play, races around the lounge room, really enjoys just being the dog at home. Davids kids love Oliver and they will play and snuggle together. Their family cat is also a best friend to Ollie.

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Hi! I'm Kerry & this is my best buddy Keiko. Together we want to help you live the best life with your dog and bring you inspiring 'Puppy Tales'! Read more →

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