Guide Dogs

Guide dog from Veiviseren Norway, førerhund fr...

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Dogs were bred with specific jobs in mind. We have retrievers, lap dogs, hounds, ratters, herders…In the modern urban world, the use of dogs has mostly been replaced by technology. This is not to say that dogs are not still used, and in many cases, they are a more effective and humane solution.

We continue to have sled dogs, dogs for therapy, assistance, and guidance, and dogs in the police and military. We now also have highly trained dogs for sniffing out bomb/drug/fruits/cancer/pirated CDS.

While not everyone likes dogs or animals, we should at least recognize them for the important job that they are doing for individuals and society. But this doesn’t seem the case. It’s okay to send in a bomb dog for your safety but not okay to allow a seeing-eye dog onto the bus or restaurant?

Guide dogs are not pets. They are selected through a vigorous process and graduate only after intensive training. The best partnerships are made by matching person and dog, who go through training together to ensure a smooth transition for both.

Trained to dismiss distractions, their job is to keep their person safe at all times.  Steering them away from potholes, stopping at the curb, and alerting them to overhead dangers. They take their job seriously – they don’t play while on duty and potty only when signaled. And to make sure people can readily identify them, all working dogs wear some ID (a harness/a shirt). Even if you don’t love them, you gotta respect them!

Clash between religious beliefs and discrimination laws is a big and growing problem in many countries. I personally think that at least if you work for public transportation, which is for the common good, you have to obey the country’s laws, regardless of your religious convictions. These same anti-discrimination laws, after all, protect your regligious practices in your private lives. Refusing a guide dog on the bus or train is ridiculous. A driver does not need to have contact or interact with a dog, which stays in close contact with their person at all times. The bus or train is big enough for those not keen on dogs to move to another area. 

I understand religions are based on different belief systems but where I cannot respect it, it’s when it breeds fears and perpetuates falsity. There’s no reason to allow or teach your kids to be fearful of these animals. Many kids automatically scream at dogs or simply run away, arms flailing. Even if they won’t believe that dogs are not scary monsters, everyone should at least be educated about what a seeing-eye guide and other assistance dogs are. And how they enrich the lives of their persons. Regardless of religion, culture or ethnicity, all humans deserve freedom and dignity.

In Singapore we don’t have the same anti-discrimination laws in place as in other countries and it’s a long uphill journey for the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind. Here it’s not only a religious issue, where Muslims believe the dog is an “unclean” animal and refuse contact and interaction (note: this is one strand of islamic teachings). It’s the young dog culture we have that means a general low level of understanding and acceptance of dogs, even (or maybe especially) guide dogs. We also have a large temporary worker force and immigration from countries where dogs are generally seen as a problem – stray, scavenging, and rabies-carrying – and where human and animal rights are dubious, at best.

The first guide dog in Singapore, Kendra, continues to be refused entry indoors and has extreme difficulty getting a cab. Five years on, there’s been some but still very little progress in educating the public and businesses about what a guide dog actually is. Certain places like Parkway Parade and Compass Point are guide-dog-friendly and display decals to remind people that it’s the law (though mostly it’s still up to the private businesses).

A good portion of taxi drivers in Singapore are Muslims and due to their religious beliefs, they will not take a dog. A lot of other ethnicities are simply afraid of dogs. Perhaps from a bad experience, but I believe, mostly from a lack of contact and understanding and from generational fear. This combination makes it difficult for seeing people to flag down a taxi with their dog but it doesn’t make sense for a highly trained specialist dog. 

Another option for transportation is the train, which legally allows guide dogs but not so with buses. In many countries worldwide, guide dogs have legal access to all public transportation, as it should be. This of course doesn’t mean that a visually-impaired person and his guide dog haven’t been refused or asked to leave the bus or train (usually due to religious reasons, as seen in the news).

‘Having a guide dog has given me back my dignity, my reason to live. Until I had Isla I was ignored, had been attacked and was too frightened to leave the house. Now I feel like a human being again.’
Hilda Winters, 89-year-old guide dog owner (from http://www.guidedogs.org.uk)

I never questioned the presence of guide dogs inside a mall or restaurant or on a train. I would love to have my own dogs with me wherever I went. A guide dog, and other service dogs, is completely different. They have a job to do and that may take them different places. To deny a guide dog is to shrink their person’s world, to take away possibilities, freedom, and independence. I surely hope that people can go beyond their current beliefs about dogs, perhaps starting with guide dogs.

In a country which has been trying to build a superhuman race, disabilities and genetic conditions like Downs and Autism, are a quiet issue. Not talked about much. Not openly discussed. Barely any support just a few short years ago.

Would bringing in guide dogs, and other assistance dogs, open the world for those who need a little help to connect to the rest of us and this world we have built? Would it help bridge the silence that stands between society and its estranged members? Would it help the rest of us see the possibilities, and be reminded once again the strength and beauty of the human spirit?

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One thought on “Guide Dogs

  1. Pingback: Dog Training Questions | Dog Training Super Tips

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