We recently wrote a blog piece about Etiquette for guide and service dogs, and now we are adding our follow up interview with Melaine Robinson.
Melaine has a degenerative eye disease which is causing the deterioration of her eyesight. However it has not stopped her from getting on with life. Recently Melaine underwent the process of being matched with a guide dog from Guide Dogs Victoria and we thought we would ask her about her experience with the process and how her guide dog has helped her.
Guide dogs always look so serious – are they ever allowed to have ‘downtime’?
Yes, I agree, they can indeed look very serious! But, I guess it is because most of them have an incredible bond with their handlers and they just know how important it is to keep their handler safe, especially when working in harness. That is why it is so important not to distract them when they are in harness as they really are concentrating on their job.
But, downtime is indeed allowed & very much encouraged as it really helps these beautiful, clever dogs to switch off, burn off some excess energy, relax and not to burn out – just the same as it is for us humans!
And of course it all helps in cementing the bond between dog and handler. And it is ever so much fun! My dog, Dessau, who is still quite young at 3 years old, loves to do crazy zoomies in our backyard when we return home from our walks!
What was the process like with being matched and trained to a guide dog?
The matching process is quite remarkable and I think completely fascinating.
My guide dog provider, Guide Dogs Victoria have a dedicated team who put a lot of work into finding the right dog for the right person.
For example, did you know that all dogs have a natural walking speed, as do people? So, having a compatible walking speed is really important.
Tolerence to other animals is important in some cases too. In my case, because we have a pet cat and a rabbit who both live indoors and as I was working at an animal shelter and I like to go horse riding, my dog had to be able to cope with all of those things, whereas for someone living on their own in an inner-city apartment and working in an office, that level of animal tolerance would not be so necessary.
And that is only 2 things that had to be considered, there are many, many more of course!
As for the training, this time with my dog was the most intensely challenging and yet incredibly rewarding 4 weeks of my life!
I lived away from home, on campus during that time and my dog was with me for absolutely every second of that time. There was soooo much to learn, but being away from home and work during this time was the absolute best way for me to truly take it all on and absorb it.
And because the matching team had just done an incredible job matching me with my perfect dog, our work ethic was identical so we really achieved so much in that time.
The post training support that was also provided was absolutely flawless too.
What has the reception been like when your out and about with your guide dog? Have you faced any discrimination?
Generally very positively. I love being out and about with my dog, it makes me happy and I like to think that my happy vibe rubs off on those around me.
In the 2 years that I have had my dog, I have only had 2 very minor, potential access refusals – one with a taxi and one at a café, but we are trained in how to explain our rights and I like to do this in a calm and informing way, there is no point getting angry and aggressive (and my dog does not like raised voices!). I do believe that this approach has served us well.
How has your guide dog helped you?
Oh my goodness, she has helped in so many ways!!
She has totally turned my life completly upside down, in all the best possible ways – except that I have not had a sleep in since I got her!!
But, seriously, I cannot say that she has given me a new found independence as I already had that, but I can say that she has actually enhanced my independence by teaching me the value of Trust.
I had been on this journey for so long on my own. I had lots of people around me who loved me and some excellent support networks, but those every day everythings? I was doing them on my own and it was wearing me down without me even realising it until I got her.
I now have a thinking team-mate to share all that decision making with and the pressure has been lifted. I can breathe now. I am a much more balanced and calmer person.
I get to live in the moment, every day, thanks to her.
Any tips or advice you would give our readers about Guide Dogs?
Don’t be afraid to say “Hello” if you are out walking and a guide dog team are approaching you!!
I think that many people may be hesitant to engage with someone walking with a guide dog for fear of distracting the person who has low vision or blindness, whereas, in actual fact, it is quite helpful if oncoming people do let us know that they are there.
While it is important not to distract the dog who will be concentrating, the handlers are usually quite relaxed and open to talking as their dogs are taking care of the concentrating!
I know it can be hard because they are just such incredible and beautiful dogs, but do try not to look at them or talk to them, instead, talk to the handler – you will get more out of a conversation with a handler because if a dog is working well and safely, it will not engage with you at all!!
Also, if you are walking with your own dog and a guide dog team is approaching you, please keep your dog on a short lead, tucked into your left hand side – don’t let your dog go up to a working guide dog. If your dog is a little excitable perhaps even pausing and asking your dog to sit is a great thing to do and even better if you just say something like “Hi there, I have my dog with me, but I have it sitting so it won’t come across to your dog”.
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