I received my dog guide, Zora, in March 2008. Almost immediately, a strong bond flourished between us. She is not only my eyes, but also my faithful companion that has helped me in so many ways. Most vision-impaired owners of dog guides will understand.
Reactions from people
Zora's friendly, quirky, and very intelligent personality often charms people. They realise that she is a working dog and must go everywhere with me. I am grateful for their understanding and acceptance of Zora. Occasionally, however, I meet people who are woefully ignorant about dog guides. They seem to view the dogs as dirty and unhygienic. Some people have even screamed at Zora, as though worried she will suddenly turn vicious.
Dog play park
Recently, my husband, Phil, and I took Zora to a dog play park. It was a sunny afternoon. After being unharnessed, Zora raced about with the other dogs and splashed about in the pools of water. She had a ball! A couple of hours later, we left the park. Not surprisingly, Zora was exhausted. The moment Phil and I sat down with a coffee in a nearby café, Zora flopped on the ground and was soon snoring away.
An upsetting experience
As I sipped my soy latte, the manager of the café came over and warned me that, in future, I couldn't bring my dog to the cafe. My husband jumped to our defence and informed the lady that it was against the law to refuse entry to a dog guide. The manager pointed out that the café had an outdoor area where we could sit. I felt like a second-class citizen.
On that occasion, the café owner reluctantly allowed us to stay, but I could sense that she was not happy about it. I didn't feel we would be welcome to return. This is a shame, as there are not many cafes around that particular area.
I find it upsetting when Zora is refused entrance to a café or restaurant, especially when she has the legal right to be there. This incident has occurred a few times over the years. Now I always carry a card with me, that clearly states the legislation regarding the rights of dog guides.
By law, dog guides are allowed to accompany their owner everywhere, whether it is a restaurant, a theatre or a taxi. Refusing to provide services to individuals who have a dog guide is discriminating against the person because of their disability. This can result in a fine. Despite efforts by individuals and organisations to educate the public about this law, illegal refusals still happen.
Steps to take
If we are refused services because of our dog guide, there are a couple of steps we can take. Firstly, we should talk to the manager or owner of the business to explain their legal obligation. If this does not resolve the matter, we could call the police. If we remain unsatisfied, we can seek assistance from organisations like Vision Australia or Guide Dogs Victoria.
Dog guides perform an amazing job. Many blind or vision-impaired people would be completely lost without them. Clearly, not everyone realises this. We need to continue reminding some people that denying the rights of dog guides is not only very hurtful and discriminatory towards blind people. It is also against the law.