There are calls for more awareness around unique breeds of assistance dog after a blind Wellington man was told he couldn’t get on the bus with his guide dog – a poodle.
George Taggart tried to board a Metlink bus earlier this week with his guide dog Guss, but was rebuffed by the driver.
“I had a smile on my face which soon evaporated when the driver said 'get off my bus'. I said 'I'm sorry?' he said, 'you're not allowed on here with a dog.'
Taggart says he showed the driver Guss’ guide dog identification, but it didn’t do much to help him, and the driver called the depot to discuss the situation while he and Guss waited.
“It'd happened to me a week before that and I hadn't reported it or anything. It's just one of those things some blind people have had to put up with. It made me feel very, very uncomfortable…by the time I got home I was a wee bit upset.”
The confusion was cleared up, and Metlink has apologised, but Blind and Low Vision NZ Chief Executive John Mulka says the situation was poorly handled.
“While it might be unusual for the public to see a Poodle as a guide dog, when George showed his ID card it should have cleared up the confusion.”
“Primarily when we're talking guide dogs you'll see a lot of labradors, the poodle is a bit of an exception but that’s related to allergies and needs for the individual.”
He says similar incidents are far too common in New Zealand.
“We've had issues where people are trying to go into restaurants, public spaces, where they’re denied access and it happens far too often. It's just a lack of general understanding and awareness that a certified guide dog is allowed access to any public space in the country by law.”
The Kotuku Foundation is a charity which trains assistance dogs for Kiwis who have all sorts of conditions – severe allergies, anxiety and PTSD, diabetes and physical impairments. It also uses all sorts of dogs, over the years it’s trained cocker spaniels, greyhounds, German shepherds and borzoi to help their owners.
Founder Merenia Donne says assistance work isn’t just for labradors and retrievers.
“The dogs we use are perfectly suited for what we need them to do. We’ve found over the years we give people a choice, and no one’s chosen to have a lab or a retriever which we found quite interesting, those are not necessarily the breeds that fit with their lifestyle.”
She also wants Kiwis to be aware of less obvious conditions that those with assistance dogs might be experiencing.
“There are many, many unseen not obvious impairments that people can have and that can be tough for them. People might say 'what’s wrong with you? You look OK' but they might have type 1 diabetes, they might be likely to have a seizure and collapse and they rely on these dogs. I think that’s a really important point to teach people about.”