Guest Commentary: Please Do Not Distract Service Dogs!

This week’s guest commentary is written by Wayne Scace, a long-time dog guide user who is visually impaired. Wayne comments on two recent experiences he faced while out in the street with his guide dog, Harley.

Wayne Scace and Harley

Recently, I experienced two incidents within twenty-four hours that interfered with my guide dog and ultimately endangered our lives. During the first incident, I was making my way home walking along Randolph Street towards Millennium Station in downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train. Suddenly, I heard someone crouch down while calling ‘puppy, puppy, puppy!’ at my guide dog in an upbeat way. The person then proceeded to take a flash photo of Harley (I am not totally blind, so I could see the flash.)

Had Harley become distracted, these actions could have endangered us. Furthermore, Harley’s vision could have become impaired temporarily by the flash. These actions were also an invasion of my privacy. If the individual had politely asked to take a photograph of Harley, I would have probably said yes. However, the person’s poor judgement took away my choice, my privacy, and endangered our team.

The second incident happened the next day while Harley and I were walking along Wood Street towards Polk to get to the El station. As we were approaching the intersection, there was an open grassy area to my right. Just as we began walking along the grass, Harley alerted me to the presence of another dog with his body language. I then heard a shout, and about 10 seconds later someone’s off-leash dog came charging at Harley and me. For a guide dog team, any rapidly approaching off-leash dog is considered a threat until proven otherwise.

When the owner finally caught up to us, he said that his dog was really friendly. I asked him where the leash was, and he waved it at me and responded that he was just playing ball with the dog in the park. I explained to him that doing so in an unsecured area was dangerous because his dog could have been injured or killed. Not to mention that Harley or I could have also been hurt. This incident was extremely dangerous, because while I was focusing on moving to keep myself between Harley and the other dog, Harley was not able to guide me. He did not lunge, or vocalize, but because I had him tucked tight to my left leg, Harley could not do his job. Besides endangering his dog and mine, the owner was in violation of the leash ordinance in Chicago.

Both of these incidents highlight why it is extremely important not to distract service dogs. Many people have tried distracting my guide dogs over the last 17 years, but these incidents are, by far, the most egregious!

Too many members of the public either do not know, or simply choose to ignore that distracting the cute service dog could endanger the lives of the team. A medical alert dog that is distracted by someone trying to pet it could miss a critical warning and the owner could die. A distracted guide dog could walk its handler out in front of a car, or into an obstacle. A wheelchair user could have their chair overturned by someone distracting their service animal. Off-leash dogs have injured service animals so badly that they had to retire. Other times, service animals have been killed, or had to be euthanized due to the severe injuries suffered from an off-leash dog. In some states it is a criminal violation to interfere with the work of a service animal team.

Bottom line, these highly trained dogs are out in public to work, not to provide people with entertainment. Service animal owners simply want to go about our day like everyone else. Fortunately, there was not a negative outcome from these incidents, except the sour taste left in my mouth.

Again, please, do not distract the service dog you encounter out in the street! We know he/she is cute, but that does not give you the right to take their photograph, or let your off-leash dog come charging up to us.

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How Do Guide Dogs Work?

Most people have heard about and seen guide dogs when out and about. These service animals are carefully trained to lead their owners around other people and obstacles. Individuals with vision loss throughout the world use guide dogs (also called dog guides) to travel safely and independently to and from home, work, school and countless other places. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about guide dogs and how they work.

GuideDog

 

Q: How and where are guide dogs trained?

A: Guide dogs can either be trained at special schools, or by owners themselves. Regardless of the training method, the dogs must learn how to guide their owner safely around all types of obstacles. Owners also have to learn how to give the dog the different commands for when traveling out and about.

 

Q: What kind of breeds are used?

A: Guide dog breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Poodles and Labradoodles. These last two are primarily used for people who are allergic to dogs. All of these breeds are used because they have the necessary intelligence, temperament and health qualities to be a successful dog guide. Dogs are matched with their future owners based on his or her personality, walking speed and other characteristics.

 

Q: How do dog guides know where to go when traveling?

A: This is a team effort between the dog and its owner. The owner knows where and how he wants to get to a certain place, and he or she is responsible for telling the dog through verbal and hand signals. Directions include forward, left and right. When at a street crossing, the owner is responsible for judging when it is safe to cross based on the sound of the cars, and should then command the dog to begin crossing. Intelligent disobedience is when a dog refuses to cross the street because it is unsafe to do so, even when the owner has commanded it to go forward.

 

Q: Do people have to be totally blind to have a dog guide?

A: People who are legally blind but still have some usable vision may also qualify for a dog guide. Although these individuals might still have some sight, they can still benefit from the assistance from a dog.

 

Q: Why do some people use dogs and others use canes?

A: Only about 5 percent of people who are blind or severely visually impaired use dog guides. Like with anything else, this all depends on many factors, including a person’s lifestyle, travel skills and preferences. Some people prefer to travel with a white cane, while others are more comfortable using a dog. You can read this Sandy’s View post about different thoughts and experiences from various cane and dog guide users.

 

Q: Is it ok to pet or feed a dog guide while it is working?

A: If you see a dog guide wearing a harness, that means it is working and should not be pet, fed or distracted. Doing so can put its owner in great danger, because it is not focusing on guiding. Never come up to a dog guide and pet it without asking its owner! Always check if it is ok, and please do not feel offended if he or she says no. This Sandy’s View post explains more about why dog guides should never be distracted.

 

Q: Where can I find out more about guide dogs?

A: The International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) provides a wealth of information about dog guides, as well as other resources on dog guide schools and other websites from all over the world.

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

The topic of fake, or ‘phony’ service dogs is commonly discussed among service animal users, and we have previously covered it in the Sandy’s View Blog. This week, Wayne Scace, a service dog user, shares his point of view on the issue.

This is in response to the Fake Service Dogs post previously published in Sandy’s View. First of all, there isn’t a problem with ‘fake service dogs’, there is, however, a problem with non-disabled individuals faking a disability to claim rights or privileges that are not due them. Next, I would like to address the statement in the post regarding the ease of acquiring service animal equipment. I say that this ease of acquiring Service Animal gear is a good thing, and for great reasons. Restricting access to the equipment WON’T stop someone from committing the fraud of faking a disability, but it WILL have the nasty side effect of making life even more difficult for disabled citizens that have a legitimate need for service animal related equipment.

Some people who received their service animal from dog guide schools choose to purchase additional leashes and harnesses to supplement the equipment they received with their dog. Most guide dog schools in the U.S. provide leather harnesses (to my knowledge, Gallant Hearts in Mississippi is the only guide dog school that issues harnesses made from nylon webbing), so some guide dog owners buy a nylon harness to use at the beach, or in the woods because it is very easy to wash if it gets soiled. Another reason is to try out a different style of harness – a Y front as opposed to the more traditional straight front harness. For individuals who choose to train their service animal, buying their equipment is not just a handy option, but it is a necessity.

Allow me to repeat this, restricting access to service animal equipment is not a solution to the problem of people that commit the fraud of faking a disability, only to gain rights and privileges that they are not due. Educating the public and businesses about service animals and the ADA would be a more constructive way to help reduce the scourge of people faking disabilities. If a dog isn’t housebroken or out of control, an establishment can ask that it be removed and the owner may then re-enter the establishment. This applies to any dog, even a fully trained service animal.

Wal-Mart is a prime example of an establishment that doesn’t use the rights granted them under the ADA, because it forbids their employees from asking customers the two legally allowed questions (1. is that a Service Animal? and (2.) what work, or task(s) has the dog been trained to perform to mitigate your disability? This can make shopping at Wal-Mart chaotic for legitimate service animal teams.

I’ve personally experienced this backlash at Wal-Mart years ago, when I realized an employee was following us around. Needing some assistance finding something, I asked the gentleman for help. As he assisted me, I asked him why he was following us, and he told me that earlier that day, someone had brought in a badly behaved, or as he put it, ‘yappy’ dog that barked, growled, and urinated in the housewares section. He had been assigned to follow us to make sure my dog did not do the same. When I attempted to educate the employee about the two legally allowed questions, he politely thanked me for the information, and stated that Wal-Mart’s policy only allowed him to ask the first question.

The way I see it, is this: The problem of people faking a disability to receive rights and privileges that aren’t due them isn’t going to go away by restricting access to equipment. Enacting a law in Illinois that criminalizes faking a disability, as Florida has done, would, in my humble opinion, be more efficacious at combating the faker problem.

Do you have comments or questions about this or other topics? Please leave us a comment, or send an email to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.

How Do Blind and Visually Impaired People Get Around?

Woman with dog 085Being blind or visually impaired doesn’t mean you automatically lose the independence of getting to and from places whenever you please. Several techniques and methods can help people get around safely regardless of their amount of vision. I will briefly talk about the different methods and how they work.

When in familiar places, visually impaired people generally know the layout and memorize where things are. Learning to travel in different or unfamiliar places is done by using orientation and mobility (O&M) skills. Orientation is the actual planning of how to get to and from places. Blind and visually impaired people use other senses – like sound, touch and smell – to orient ourselves to our surroundings. So, if I am walking outside and know there is a school nearby, then I can assume that it is near when I hear children playing and laughing. Likewise, the smell of freshly baked bread and cookies tells me I am near a bakery.

Memory is also important when traveling as a person without vision. We memorize important street names, locations, etc. Contrary to common belief, we do not count our steps! Those with low vision may use their other senses along with their remaining vision to get around.

Mobility is the physical traveling done to get to and from places. This includes walking, taking public transportation or even getting a ride from friends or family. Mobility devices are the tools we use to travel independently and safely from point A to point B:

  • The white cane helps people who are blind or severely visually impaired know when there are tripping hazards such as cracks, poles, etc. The cane is swept from side to side to clear one’s path from these and other obstacles. Other techniques allow us to know when we’ve reached a crosswalk or the entrance to a room. The white cane also signals to drivers that the pedestrian about to cross the street is visually impaired.
  • Guide dogs are service animals that have received special and extensive training to guide blind and visually impaired individuals. These dogs guide their handlers around obstacles and can also help find things like entrances, escalators and elevators. It is up to the handler to tell the dog where to go – it is only there to lead the person and help him or her arrive safely to the desired destination.
  • A sighted (or human) guide is probably the simplest of all the methods, and is the proper way of assisting someone who may need help getting somewhere. A blind person is guided by someone else by holding on to their arm. This method is preferred by some of us when in unfamiliar places or if there are large crowds.
  • Various technology devices are now making it easier for blind and visually impaired people to find their way around. We will cover this area in a future Sandy’s View post.

All of these methods are equally effective. There is no one right method for every person given that we all have different needs, preferences and lifestyles. Other types of accessibility features, such as audible announcements on buses and trains are of enormous help to people with visual impairments. While not everyone might need this type of assistance, it is great to know it is available.

What other methods or techniques help you get around as a blind or visually impaired person? Are there other accessibility features that help you be more independent in your travels? Please comment! You can also send any blindness and visual impairment related questions to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Have a great weekend, and safe travels out there!