Blind woman ‘close to los­ing’ guide dog

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

A preg­nant, par­tially-blind woman risks los­ing her guide dog af­ter com­plaints from the Porirua pub­lic.

Natalie Fraser says mem­bers of the pub­lic have com­plained about her to the Royal New Zealand Foun­da­tion of the Blind (RNZFB), and she is wor­ried fur­ther com­plaints could mean her guide dog is taken away.

‘‘I’m close to los­ing him. Three strikes, you’re out,’’ she says.

Lo­cals who see Mrs Fraser in shop­ping malls and on buses seem to be­lieve she is not blind enough to war­rant hav­ing a guide dog. Mrs Fraser has no vi­sion in her left eye and suffers from glau­coma, which gives her tun­nel vi­sion, and uveitis, in­flam­ma­tion of the eye.

Her vi­sion is pro­gres­sively get­ting worse, and she got her guide dog two years ago when mo­bil­ity be­came dif­fi­cult.

‘‘I don’t bump into things any more,’’ she says. ‘‘ He’s been re­ally re­ally good, gets me around places.’’

She has also gar­nered com­plaints that she is mis­treat­ing her dog, but on­look­ers mis­un­der­stand the way guide dogs should be treated, she says.

They are work­ing dogs and should not be touched or called by name by the pub­lic. Peo­ple get of­fended when she tells them not to touch the dog, Mrs Fraser says.

‘‘Be­cause they do­nate money [to RNZFB] they think they own the dog.’’

Now six months’ preg­nant, Mrs Fraser wor­ries how she will han­dle com­plaints when she is strug­gling with both a baby and a dog on out­ings.

‘‘If mem­bers of the pub­lic keep on nark­ing on me, it’s my words against theirs.’’

In the past, guide dogs were only for the to­tally blind, but that has changed, RNZFB re­gional guide dog in­struc­tor Kim Nor­ton says.

‘‘ Any of our mem­bers who have lim­ited sight are el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for a guide dog.’’

Three com­plaints have been re­ceived about Mrs Fraser in the past year.

Ms Nor­ton says peo­ple can mis­in­ter­pret the way guide dogs are han­dled as in­ap­pro­pri­ate, and need to be ed­u­cated about guide dogs.

In food courts or restau­rants, dogs’ noses need to be kept off the ground, and the han­dlers don’t re­alise pulling on dogs’ leashes looks wrong to some peo­ple.

‘‘Peo­ple with low vi­sion, they can’t see what they look like to other peo­ple.’’

Mrs Fraser’s dog would only be taken away if it was found she was mis­treat­ing it or if it was not per­form­ing guide dog du­ties, Ms Nor­ton says.

How­ever, when han­dlers get up­set and talk back to the pub­lic it does not re­flect well on the RNZFB and Mrs Fraser has been coached on her re­sponse to crit­i­cism, she says. The foun­da­tion re­lies on pub­lic do­na­tions and has to con­sider its rep­u­ta­tion with the pub­lic.

Un­der­stand­ing needed: Preg­nant and par­tially-blind woman Natalie Fraser could lose her guide dog over pub­lic mis­un­der­stand­ings about blind­ness and how to treat guide dogs.

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