Let’s tackle the big issue first: Is it okay to pet a guide dog?
Answer: It's OK to pet a guide dog, only if the handler has given you permission. There may be times when it looks as if the dog is resting or the handler isn’t being guided, but in actuality, whenever the dog is in harness, it is working. There are some handlers who don’t want their dogs petted, so if you have your request declined, don’t feel bad, just smile and admire the dog from afar.
Then there’s the issue of petting our adorable puppies-in-training – is that OK? If you have gotten permission from the Puppy Raiser, sure. We send our puppies out with Puppy Raisers, so that they will get exposed to a multitude of people and places as part of their socialization.
When the puppy is under 10 months old, the Puppy Raiser may let you pet the puppy while it is wearing its training coat (ours are blue), but if the puppy is older, the Puppy Raiser will remove the coat first, then let you know it is OK to pet the puppy. We do this because after 10 months the puppies begin to connect that when they are in coat, they are working, but when the coat is off, they are off duty, just like the guide dog harness.
Don’t get your feelings hurt if the Puppy Raiser asks that you not pet the puppy though. While they are very cuddly and cute, it is imperative that the puppy learns to ignore distractions (including people who really want to pet them).
For the locals, you have likely seen our trainers in their blue shirts and khaki pants working the dogs around town. But if you come across someone with a guide dog, don’t automatically assume it is one of our trainers. There are a number of guide dog handlers in the area who are working with full-fledged guide dogs. Even if they are wearing one of Southeastern’s blue staff shirts, they may be relying on their guide to get around town, since two of our team members are guide dog handlers.
Did you know that traffic is required to always yield to someone in the crosswalk who is traveling with a white cane, guide dog, or other form of mobility device? It is known as the White Cane Law and has been in effect in Florida since the late 1930s. It is intended to guarantee the rights of all disabled pedestrians to access streets and highways. Unfortunately, this important law goes woefully unenforced and by the very nature of their disability, the visually impaired community cannot witness infractions themselves.
Here on campus, we are pretty comfortable interacting with people with visual impairments, but I’m sure those who don’t typically have blind people in their lives may find it a bit awkward. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- If you see a blind person who appears to be in need of assistance, don’t just go up and grab them by the arm. Instead, ask if they need help and if they do, give them clear and concise directions (stay away from phrases like “over there” or “close by”).
- If a visually impaired person asks to go “sighted guide,” that means they want you to lead them to their destination. To do so, simply offer them your left elbow and lead them, being sure to note changes in elevation and alerting them to walking through doorways, etc. It’s like you are being their guide dog for that time.
- If you enter a room with blind people, announce yourself so they know who entered and let them know when you leave so they aren’t talking to you when you aren’t there anymore.
- When dining with someone who is blind, it is sometimes helpful to let them know where items are by using the clock method. For instance, “your water is at 11:00.”
Those were just a few tips we use here on campus to make our students feel comfortable and hopefully they will help the next time you meet one of our guide dog handlers around town.