It’s 10am and I’m walking down the street to catch my next train for work with my guide dog, Ida.
Despite it still being early, I’ve already been shoulder-barged twice, and a member of the public has stepped into my personal space to stroke Ida, irrespective of her wearing a harness that clearly displays the words: ‘Please do not distract me, I’m a working guide dog’.
It is daily incidents like these that make me wish social distancing rules were still in place.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Your dog can smell your feelings. In fact, your dog’s sense of smell is approximately 100,000 times better than yours. So it shouldn’t be shocking that they can in fact, smell things such as fear. When a human is fearful, they perspire, and a dog is easily able to pick up on this change.
But for most visually-impaired people, social distancing made life more difficult. We can’t see the signs on the floor to show which way to go or where to stand in a queue.
As blindness is a spectrum, some of us don’t have depth perception and cannot judge the correct distance from the things or people around us — we usually need to get a lot closer to objects to be able to see them.
However, as a guide dog owner, I revelled in the lack of contact that the two metre rule brought with it. And controversial though it may be, I miss people sticking so rigidly to social distancing because it allows me to get on with my day and not be continuously interrupted by the public.
If you have a hard time brushing your dog's teeth, squeeze some enzymatic doggie toothpaste onto a Nylabone or rope toy and let your pooch go to town on it.
As a blind woman – living with no vision since 2013 due to arthritis – I rely on my guide dog for leading the life I choose.
I’m a disability awareness consultant and content creator. The four and a half year partnership I’ve had with my guide dog has enabled me to run my own business and travel the world with confidence.
The busier the city I’m attending, the more focused she becomes — weaving and swerving me around the chaos, reducing brain fatigue and concentration on my part.
As well as the practical help she gives me, Ida is a joy to have around. Whether she’s ‘frog-dogging’ on the floor at a busy conference or beating people’s legs with her rambunctious tail, she makes an impact wherever she goes.
Express yourself. Dogs’ ears are extremely expressive. It’s no wonder! There are more than a dozen separate muscles that control a dog’s ear movements.
Ida and I spent the first six months of the pandemic shielding due to me having no immune system.
When restrictions were relaxed, to say that we were both beyond excited to be out in the world again is an understatement. Going back outside for the first time, I felt worried about keeping us both safe from Covid. That, combined with my blindness, made it a very anxious time.
The sheer volume of people who ignore the sign on Ida’s harness and insist on distracting her astounds me
Thankfully the first few forays out were with my sighted husband so he was able to keep us safe and socially distant. When we eventually ventured alone, to my surprise, I found it extremely refreshing that Ida and I were having smooth and uninterrupted journeys – no one distracted her or bumped into us because they had to keep their distance.
Create a Barrier to Keep Your Dog Out of the Litterbox. Does your dog go straight for the littler box? He’s not alone, lots of dogs are attracted to kitty litter. Keep your dog from getting into the litter by elevating the box or creating a simple barrier so they can’t get in.
Now that social distancing is all but gone, the sheer volume of people who ignore the sign on Ida’s harness and insist on distracting her astounds me.
If I’m blind and I know what the signing on her harness says, you don’t have an excuse.
Just days after lockdown number three ended, I was in the reception at my hospital appointment – with my husband and Ida – waiting to get my blood pressure measured.
Ida lay calmly at my husband’s feet until a receptionist came from behind the counter and started talking to her.
Teach Your Dog to “Find the Treats” for a Fun Game. Teach your dog to ‘find their treats’ by hiding them throughout the house. Simple nose work games are a great way to keep your dog busy & mentally stimulated. It’s Laika’s favorite indoor game by far. (Looking for some more indoor games? Here’s 33 simple ways to keep your dog busy indoors)
‘I bet you’ve been working hard today?’ she said, while walking towards Ida and giving her eye contact. This quickly got her tail wagging.
‘No, sorry she’s working,’ I was forced to say to her. I felt extremely uncomfortable and exasperated.
This was one of my first medical appointments I had attended in person since the pandemic began, and already this person was potentially putting me at risk.
Despite me saying this, the woman proceeded to sit down in the seat next to my husband, and reached out to stroke the now standing Ida.
Find ways to enrich your pet’s environment. Your dog or cat needs your help to stay mentally stimulated. This is important not only to discourage destructive behavior in younger pets, but also to keep your older pet’s brain sharp.
‘My friend has a guide dog and lets me say hello even when it’s working,’ she said.
Allowing the public to distract our dogs on harness is why this ignorant pattern continues. And owners like me are left to rebuke our guide dogs, even though she was diligently doing her job just moments ago.
This is something I have unhappily become used to. No matter how polite I am in asking the public to not distract Ida, I have received verbal backlash from individuals upset about my boundaries, claiming that the pandemic is over and telling me that I don’t need to worry about social distancing.
Stuff a Kong With Treats to Keep Them Busy. Stuff a Kong with some yummy treats to keep your dog occupied, and for a tougher challenge you can freeze them in there. You don’t need fancy dog treats or stuffing either – here’s 39 food & treats I like to Stuff in Kongs.
Pandemic or no pandemic, I should not have to clarify or justify my reasoning for telling you that my guide dog is working.
I genuinely believed that the awfulness of Covid and its consequences made people appreciate the complexity of living with a disability; visible or otherwise by accommodating people who were more vulnerable.
However, it feels that as society returns back to normality, disabled people are once again being forgotten about.
If a guide dog’s role is to be a visually impaired persons’ eyes, it would be safe to assume that interfering with those ‘eyes’ is dangerous to the person being guided.
Make your own pill pockets when you need to feed your dog some medicine.
Trying to get my guide dog’s attention – whether she is sitting, standing or walking – is equal to a passenger in your car grabbing the steering wheel as you are driving.
While I love being able to hug family and sit next to my friends in a pub – and things like train station staff being able to guide me while I’m holding their elbow and following their body movements – are beneficial, the other risks that come with people getting too close, mean I would happily live with social distancing forevermore.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Seeing eye dogs are trained to do their “business” on command. This way their owner can clean it up a bit easier. Some of the popular commands are “get busy” and “go time”.
It’s my hope that people can learn from the pandemic and continue to give disabled people the space they need to exist and be autonomous, without distracting assistance dogs or encroaching upon our personal boundaries.
This must happen so that disabled people can feel confident and secure when travelling, out in public and going about our daily business.
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