Blind woman ‘close to losing’ guide dog
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.