It is not uncommon to see guide dogs while visiting the Disneyland Resort, so when Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. recently contacted me to see if I would help spread the word about Guide Dogs for the Blind and the difference they make in the lives of those they serve, I jumped at the chance.
Guide dogs aren’t just companions; they provide visually impaired people with the independence and freedom that may otherwise be difficult, or even daunting. They are specially bread, carefully trained dogs who go through months and months of special instruction before being placed with into service. They help people like David Cooper (pictured here) the ability to navigate around New York City. With the help of his dog Parnelli, he is able to weave through the large crowds, bustling commotion and the pulsing energy of the city to and from his way to work. Navigating New York City blind sounds beyond difficult, but with Parnelli by his side, David has a trusted set of eyes keen to things like street corners, uneven pavement and the like.
Now imagine a day at Disneyland for someone who is visually impaired. It wouldn’t be very different from what David experiences during his daily walks through Manhattan — noises, commotion and uneven surfaces to navigate throughout the day. When any of us see a dog, especially the beautiful labradors and golden retrievers that are typically used as guide dogs for the blind, it’s natural to want to interact with them. I definitely get the temptation given that I am a golden retriever mom, myself. That being said, it is important to not just resist the temptation, but to turn the experience into a teachable moment for your children. Working with Natural Balance and Guide Dogs for the Blind, here are some tips for what to do when you see a guide dog and its blind partner while visiting the Disneyland Resort or in any public place.
- As tempting as it may be to pet a guide dog, remember that this dog is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from that duty. If you are out in public with your own dog and see a guide dog with its blind partner, of course it is very important to recognize that it is not an appropriate time for a doggy play date.
- A person’s safety may depend on their dog’s alertness and concentration. It is okay to ask someone if you may pet their guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. The dog’s primary responsibility is to its blind partner. Just be certain to exercise common sense. Asking during a quiet down moment – say while sitting a waiting for a show or while eating may be a good time. While standing in a throng of guests trying to navigate around a post parade rush of Disneyland guests would not.
- A guide dog should never be offered food or other distracting treats. Food rewards are used as a motivational and training tool, and those rewards are only given to the dogs by their handlers.
- You may encounter a guide dog wearing a head collar, which is a humane training tool that helps a dog become calm and focused when distracted. The head collar is not a muzzle and is designed to permit the dog to fully open its mouth and can even be worn when the dog is eating, drinking, or playing.
- Treat a person who is blind the same as you would anyone else. They do the same things as you do, but may use different techniques. Speak in a normal tone of voice. Blindness doesn’t equal hearing loss.
- Talk directly to a person who is blind, not to their companion. Loss of sight is not loss of intellect.
- If a blind person looks as though they may need assistance, ask. A simple, “Would you like me to guide you?” is a kind gesture. Offering your elbow is an effective and dignified way to lead someone who is blind. Do not be afraid to identify yourself as an inexperienced sighted guide and ask for tips on how to improve.
- Be sensitive when questioning someone about their blindness. This is personal information and boundaries should be respected.
You can donate to Guide Dogs for the Blind and help make a difference by clicking here.
Natural Balance is a proud supporter of Guide Dogs for the Blind. While I would have definitely passed along this important information as a public service, they provided me with a small care package for doing so, which included our dog Summer’s favorite food of choice! (The bag pictured below was not the compensation for this post)