Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin

Ok, I don’t actually have a guide dog. But I didn’t have a blog when I did have a guide dog, and this message is important!

I got the idea for the post when I read a humorous article about how some people can’t understand even the most obvious signs that other people don’t want to engage.

You’re reading a book? That must mean you want to talk about that book. You’re listening to music? Let’s start up a conversation about what you’re listening to. You’re working on your laptop? Maybe you’re just waiting to tell me all about your job! That kind of thing!

Trying to start a conversation is not a bad thing in itself, but if the person gives monosyllabic answers, turns away, or tells you that they’re busy – that’s the time to stop trying to engage them in conversation!

I used to spend a lot of time on the train because I didn’t live close to my office. I had some good train conversations too, and many train adventures as well. Some random conversations on trains even led to lasting friendships.

But sometimes, in the early morning or late evening after a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to random strangers. I wanted to read my book, listen to music, listen to a podcast, or just be still and let the day wash over me. Unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t pay attention to the headphones or the “I’m done with people for today” scowl!

If you have a dog with you, it can be even worse!

A guide dog can be a great conversation starter, but having one with me often got me more attention than I really wanted.

The woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer

It came to a head one day when I was having dinner with one of my colleagues after work. She was also a friend. I don’t even remember now what we were talking about, but it was something fairly intense. One of us was having a hard time and we were trying to fix it. Partner trouble, family, annoying colleagues – I really don’t know now. But we weren’t just having a casual chat or open to other people joining our table.

Along came a woman who thought that this would be the best time to come over and wake my guide dog up.

I told her it wasn’t a good time because we were in the middle of a conversation, and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to stop bothering us, she stayed around and let me know how she’d been raising money for people like me and I should be a bit more grateful.

I was not grateful.

I was not sorry.

She just succeeded in making me more annoyed and I did finally manage to get her to stop bothering us.

The problem

The point of charity work or donating to organisations that help others is not to then give you freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, particularly when that means completely disregarding the needs of those you claim to want to help.

There is a different system here in the UK because unlike other countries, where funding for guide dogs is part of the healthcare system, our main guide dog school is a charitable organisation. This means it runs fundraising events and accepts donations from the public.

But that doesn’t make the dogs public property. They are working with an individual to improve their quality of life, give them independence, be a fantastic friend, and enable them to navigate the world with a bit less hassle.

Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, it is ok to say hi, but it’s never ok to assume. If someone asks you to leave or stop engaging with the dog, that’s what you need to do.

I can be a bit forthright, and generally people left us alone when I asked them to. But as well as the practical problem of exciting a dog who was otherwise having a snooze, the issue was about this woman’s sense of entitlement and the assumption that her desire to stroke my dog was more important than the private conversation that I was trying to have.

I’m not sure that the woman in the story really got that point after our encounter. I think she was just indignant that I dared to challenge her.

You can’t win them all! To be honest, her leaving felt like a win that day, even if she just thought I had a bad attitude.

It’s possible that I was a bit short with her. I know I can be quite direct! I try to calmly educate and stay objective, but it’s hard when people don’t bother to think how their actions might be causing a problem, or when they won’t listen. She could see I was leaning across the table, deep in conversation. I wouldn’t go up and bother someone who looked like that.

The other thing is that all these things add up. Someone might have had to deal with the same things multiple times that day. It could be interrupting an important phone call because someone thought that would be a great time to come and make a load of noise saying hi to the dog under the desk. It could be educating parents on a train that a guide dog is not free entertainment so that the parents could have a bit of piece. It could be dealing with the person who thinks that calling a guide dog from the other side of a busy road is a smart thing to do. I’ve experienced them all!

It’s a tough one. If the cute doggy is in the centre of your fundraising strategy, people will identify with the cute doggy! But working with a guide dog means working as part of a team, and the guide dog owner, or the person at the other end of the lead, is also part of the package!

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

7 thoughts on “Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin”

  1. Argh, I want to tell that woman she should be grateful you didn’t set your fierce lab on her! When I read the title for this, I started mentally going through all the times I’ve come across guide dogs and their owners. And owners of dogs generally. You do need to read the signs with anyone prior to trying to get them into a discussion which may make them uncomfortable in some way, whether it’s awkward or inconvenient or just plain rude to interrupt. I remember a lady outside of the little Tesco Express store in town last year with her dog, raising money for Guide Dogs. I watched from a distance first and she was quite chatty with people. I went up, put money in, asked her how she was and said what a gorgeous dog she had. She asked if I liked labradors and I got that goofy look on my face – “do I hell! I love ’em! Retrievers too, do you have one of those in your handbag by any chance?”

    Okay, so I didn’t say that. But she invited conversation and then I asked if I could say hello to the dog. There’s no way I’d ever say hello to someone’s dog without getting a go ahead from the owner, and if I thought they weren’t happy with it then I wouldn’t even entertain the idea. The other problem is these labs and retrievers are just gorgeous. I can just imagine how many times people get stopped as a result, and that must multiply when it’s a guide dog and someone thinks they’re almost entitled to do and say as they please.

    Very well said, Kirsty. A good point for us all to keep in mind.
    Caz xx

    1. Thank you! It is so true. Some of them really solicit attention, which is why some guide dog owners prefer German shepherds. They are generally less interested in other people.

      I love dogs too, and especially now that I don’t have one, I’m always happy to give pats when we’re out and about, but only if the owner is ok with it.

      I think a lot of the cute puppy imagery is part of the problem – the cute puppies grow up to be working dogs. Sometimes in the past I’ve asked people “would you do that if you saw a police dog out and about?” Some got the point – others didn’t!

      I’m glad you got some labrador time with the lady outside Tescoes and it’s good you asked first.

  2. First of all this is a very well written article. I know lots of persons myself included who have had inappropriate interaction with the public and their guide dogs.
    It is a common problem.
    The Seeing Eye, where I got my dog, tried in every way possible to train us to deal with these situations. Thankfully, only one or two times did I have to get extremely forceful with people.
    before I go, let me just say, that I don’t know what countries provide funding through their healthcare systems, forgot dog use, but it certainly is not the United States.
    All of our guide dog schools are nonprofits and they all must raise money to fund the programs.
    Have a great day.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I’m glad that your guide dog school offered good support in this area.

      A lot of the advice that I recieved was good as well, but I did feel there were some people who didn’t want us to upset the public too much, because they are the main source of funding. I think here at least, more could be done to promote the message not to distract or engage with the dogs.

      Have a wonderful day,

      1. Hi.
        The Seeing Eye and other Guide Dog organizations have put out instructional brochures on how to correctly interact with the handler dog teams.
        We’re taught how to correctly speak to the public when confronted with such situation, and in many states throughout the country it is a felony to interfere with a service dog of any kind.
        The Seeing Eye has been in existance since 1929 and in fact, is the largest and oldest school in the entire world. They began the Guide Dog, or as it is politically correct to say, “Dog Guide” movement.
        It is why I’ve written the books I have. The goal of my writing is to educate the public about such things.
        My first two books deal directly with the Guide Dog process.

  3. Ah that woman was out of line, she probably needed someone to be short with her to realise that behaviour like that isn’t welcome. I think a lot of people don’t realise that a guide dog is a working partner, not a cute doggy for them to play with as and when.

    1. I think she probably told all her mates about that mean woman with the guide dog – but maybe she was just saving face and when she left the situation had time to think about how her behaviour wasn’t great. I guess I’ll never know! But yes, most of the time it wasn’t as bad as that situation, but I still had to remind people that my dog was like a police dog or a rescue dog – doing a job and not just there for a fuss.

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