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8 Potentially Hazardous People You Meet as a Guide Dog Owner

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When you’re working with a guide dog, you will encounter many different kinds of people. While most of these individuals have the purest of intentions, few of them realize how their actions can pose a serious safety hazard for both you and your canine partner. Here are eight potentially hazardous types of people I’ve frequently encountered as a guide dog owner.

1. The Kissing Bandits.

You’ll never actually see these people, and not because you’re blind or visually impaired. These sneaky characters like to lurk amidst the shadows. The only indication of their presence comes in the form of the annoying kissing, smooching and other face-sucking sounds they make in a persistent effort to get your guide dog’s attention. A “Kissing Bandit’s” misguided display of affection is dangerously distracting for both you and your guide dog! Trust me, my dog does not want to kiss you. I don’t want to kiss you! Neither she or I have any idea exactly where your mouth has been. Please go home and smooch your own pooch and let us get back to work.

2. Nostalgics.

Prepare yourself for story hour! Seeing your beautiful guide dog will undoubtedly cause some lovers of your breed to take a stroll down memory lane. “Nostalgics” will stop you dead in your tracks enthusiastically wanting to share stories about their dearly departed “Buddy” or “Lassie” or “Spot.” They will spare no small detail from the time they first laid eyes on their canine companions to every gut wrenching moment leading up to their passing. As someone who has owned and lost many dogs prior to being matched with Frances, I feel for these people, really I do. But when you’ve got a toddler crossing their legs in desperate need of the potty, you’ll need to gently cut these conversations off and keep it moving.

3. Ninjas.

They may not be dressed in black, but “Ninjas” definitely know to sneak up on a blind person. You won’t “see” them coming. Chances are you won’t even hear them coming. They will ignore any “do not pet” markers on your guide dog. They won’t care they are in harness. These people believe they are above asking permission when it comes to touching your dog.  What “Ninjas” want most in the world is to lay their hands on those furry faces or kiss you working dog’s wet nose. The best way to combat a ninja is by giving them a dose of their own medicine. Once bent over or on their knees talking to your dog, grab your harness and maneuver around this perpetrator. “Sorry, my dog is working, got to go!” Evaporate into the night and never look back.

4. The HR’s.

Do guide dogs get sick days? How about vacation time? “HR’s” (short for Human Resources) are overly concerned with labor laws relating to your canine’s work responsibilities. These people will inundate you with questions, sometimes deferring right to your dog for a response. (FYI, Frances won’t answer.) “Are you getting enough rest?” “Is momma’s route too stressful?” “Do you need a spa day at the groomers?” “HR’s” are relentless and won’t give up until you’ve convinced them your guide dog is well-fed, loved and respected as your partner. When I come in contact with an HR, I quickly whip out my cellphone. My screen saver happens to be a picture of Frances in a tiara; proving once and for all that my dog is absolutely treated like royalty when she’s off duty.

5. Smartphone Zombies.

Get off your cell phones, people! While guide dogs are trained to help the blind avoid obstacles on the street, nothing is more unpredictable than a bobbing and weaving “Smartphone Zombie.” Zombies like to walk face down, noses pointed towards their smart phone screens. They rarely look up at the world around them, preferring texting and emoijis to human contact.

One memorable smartphone zombie incident occurred on a cold, December night as my guide dog Frances and I were en route to my local hospital for a doctor’s appointment. As Franny lead me towards the front door of the building, she stopped midway, indicating something was in our path. I extended my hand to find she was alerting me to a wheelchair that had been left outside. That’s when it hit me. Literally. A woman walking with her cell-phone crashed right into me. The phone falling into my coat, right down my cleavage. Yeah, how’s that for awkward.

“You didn’t see me coming?” she snarled.

“No, I didn’t see you; I’m blind.” In my head I was thinking…. Umm. Hello? Woman with a guide dog here.

There was no “I’m sorry,” or “Are you OK?” All the young woman said was, “Well, give me back my cell phone.” I removed my glove and fished out her phone from inside my jacket. She grabbed it from my hand as if nothing had happened, and went right back to texting. I looked down at Frances and shook my head.

Despite your dog’s years of training, be prepared to walk into a couple of these hazardous individuals during your partnership. Don’t worry about apologizing for the mishap. Zombies will usually ignore you and your dog entirely and continue focusing on their digital world. Take a page from their book and blog, tweet or Facebook about their deplorable behavior later! (How do you like me now, hospital parking lot Smartphone Zombie lady?)

6. Interrogators.

You’re walking with your guide dog when your cell phone rings. You remove your phone from your coat pocket and take the call. That’s when the interrogator appears. “Excuse me, did I just see you answer your phone?”  Yes, yes you did. “But how can you do that if you’re ‘supposed’ to be blind?” If you’re feeling patient that day, feel free to subject yourself to a lengthy discussion with this “Interrogator”about variations in visual acuity and accessibility features on smart phones. Some will appreciate your candor and may even become more educated as a result of your efforts. But prepare yourself! Other “Interrogators” will continue to question the validity of your disability and why you need a guide dog in the first place. Excuse yourself from these conversations. Take the high road, stay classy and remember there are some folks out there who choose to make it their job to interrogate the world.

7. The Flea Circus.

When groups of small children see me working with Frances, they usually begin to bounce up and down. Enter the “Flee Circus.” Kids have two reactions to dogs. They either love them, anxiously trying to pet them, or they are completely petrified, running away in sheer terror. As a blind mom of two toddlers, I know kids can be difficult to manage. They will absolutely test your patience with their overabundance of tenacity and curiosity. However, it’s up to a child’s parents to teach them proper dog etiquette, and I’m not just talking about guide dogs.

No child should be permitted to run up and touch a dog they don’t know. Every dog is different and not all of them can be trusted to tolerate children. As a guide dog handler, I know my dog has been trained to work around kids. That does not negate the fact that I don’t want my dog touched when we are working together, especially when I am trying to manage my own two daughters in public.

8. Puppy Play-daters.

Let me set the scene. You’re about to cross an extremely busy intersection. You and your dog are in sync, intently focused on the sounds and flow of traffic. All of sudden you hear yappy barking headed in your direction. Enter the “Puppy play-dater.” “Oh, hey. Can you see me? This is my dog Precious, she just wants to say hi to your dog.” “Precious” has now snapped to the end of her leash, dragging her overzealous owner behind.

“Can you please hold your dog back?”  I ask.

Badly offended, the owner continues to babble, “No, no really, she’s just playful.”

“Puppy play-daters” fail to realize the immense importance of a guide dog’s health and safety. The blind rely on our canine partners to get us where we need to be on a daily basis. If Frances gets hurt, my entire family suffers. Please control your “precious” dog and pretend my canine partner and I aren’t even here. If we’re in the mood to play, we’ll head to the dog park!

Being a guide dog handler is a delicate balance requiring an immense amount of concentration by both handler and dog. Working with Frances has made me extremely mindful of her safety and my own.While I’m always open to educating others about Franny and my work together, there are times when people’s interactions with us can potentially put my family in danger. Don’t become that hazardous individual for a guide dog team. Respect the working relationship and remember your actions, however well-intentioned, could inadvertently cause us harm.  And please, if you’re walking, stay off the cell phones!

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Originally published: December 19, 2016
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