Last Updated on July 19, 2023 by Fumipets
“Please Refrain”: Sault Ste. Marie Woman Pleads Public to Respect Her Guide Dog’s Space
Navigating Life with Vision Loss
Melissa Arnold, a Sault Ste. Marie resident and mother of two, is no stranger to tripping over curbs or walking into walls. It’s part of her daily routine, as she lives with macular degeneration, a condition causing vision loss. This life-altering situation led her to rely on guide dogs to navigate her surroundings. Despite the daily challenges, Arnold continues to work and study, refusing to let her condition dictate her life.
However, a pressing concern keeps popping up in her life – the public’s incessant urge to interact with her guide dog. A second-year student at Algoma University, Arnold wishes for more public understanding and respect for the critical role her guide dog plays in her life.
A Sudden Shift and a Furry Companion
The onset of Arnold’s vision loss was sudden and unexpected. About 14 years ago, she woke up to find that she could no longer see properly out of her right eye, described as having “the center of her vision just gone”. Three years later, her left eye followed suit. The sudden and drastic onset of her vision loss left medical professionals baffled. Arnold explained, “My peripheral vision is perfect, but it’s like having a big fist of emptiness in the middle”.
Since 2015, Arnold has relied on guide dogs for assistance. Her previous guide dog, Ginger, was a familiar sight at Extendicare Maple View, bringing joy to the nursing home residents during the COVID pandemic. Arnold’s current furry companion is a four-year-old yellow Labrador named Cherry, who, much to Arnold’s distress, is a magnet for public attention.
Public Interaction: A Double-Edged Sword
While public affection for Cherry might seem harmless, it poses significant challenges for Arnold. People interacting with Cherry disrupts the dog’s focus, which can potentially put Arnold in dangerous situations. “People need to ignore the dog – pretend she’s not there,” Arnold stresses, “It’s hard because she is so adorable. But I don’t want to keep going for new dogs every year because her training gets ruined by people giving her attention.”
She recounts an incident at a Soo Greyhounds game where a woman started petting Cherry, leaving Arnold disoriented and lost. Such interactions, Arnold points out, can have devastating consequences. She equates it to taking a paraplegic person out of their wheelchair or snatching crutches from someone with a broken leg.
Raising Awareness: Education and Consideration
Apart from the difficulties caused by people interacting with Cherry, Arnold also talks about the rejection she faces due to Cherry. She recalls instances where cab drivers refused her service because of her guide dog. She points out the urgent need for education about guide dogs, especially in schools and universities. She hopes that spreading awareness would lead to more acceptance and respect for guide dogs.
Despite the obstacles, Arnold manages to maintain her sense of humor, using it as a coping mechanism. She knows that Cherry, like any living being, isn’t perfect and might make mistakes. However, she encourages the public to look for signals, like a bright handle harness or a tag saying, “Please don’t pet me – I’m working,” before approaching a guide dog. “Not everyone who has a guide dog is completely blind either – some of us can still see a bit,” she adds.
Public awareness and respect for guide dogs’ roles are crucial in creating safer environments for people like Arnold. While a pat on Cherry’s head might seem like a harmless act of affection, it disrupts a carefully cultivated routine and potentially puts Arnold at risk. As such, Arnold pleads, “Please refrain, and let the guide dogs guide.”
This article is based on the original news piece found here.