Please Help My Retired Guide Dog Retain her Privileges!
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- Please Help My Retired Guide Dog Retain her Privileges!
I am a 33-year-old totally blind woman. I have worked with my wonderful guide dog Astra for the past 7 years. She has faithfully accompanied me through my university degrees, 2 workplaces, around my local neighbourhood, and in social situations with friends and family.
In February 2016, Astra was retired, and I was faced with the choice of either surrendering her for re-homing, or keeping her. This is an option given to all guide dog users. Naturally, I chose to keep her, as we had been together 24/7 for the last 7 years. Once a guide dog retires, their handlers face several serious issues if they choose to retain their dog. Upon retirement, the dog loses all its public access rights and privileges. This means that Astra is no longer able to access public transport, enter shops, cafes, fly, access motel accommodation, and so forth, all of which she has been accustomed to. This has a severe emotional and physical impact on both dog and handler, as mobility is restricted for the handler and they are forced to be separated. This situation is made even more difficult if the handler lives alone, because the dog cannot be left for any length of time.
Handlers who choose to keep their dogs also face restrictions in relation to housing, as many public housing and rental properties do not accomodate tennants with pets. For this reason, some people are forced to have their beloved guide dog re-homed, which causes them both a great deal of emotional distress, due to the strong bond that has formed over years of close team work.
If a person wishes to travel with their retired guide dog, they face several disadvantages. Firstly, the stress and anguish of being separated during a plane flight, as the dog is no longer allowed to travel with its owner in the cabin of the aircraft, and is placed in a cage in the cargo hold. There are also exorbitant costs to travel to and from the airport using pet transport companies, and the cost of flying, as the dog can no longer travel for free. Accommodation is also restricted, as they are limited to staying in pet-friendly motels, which are often difficult to find, and may not be located in the desired area.
Current public access laws stipulate that a retired guide dog is prohibited from entering shops, cafes, and public transport. As the majority of blind people have no alternative than to use public transport, this not only restricts the dog, but severely limits the owner's mobility. I find it quite ironic that a guide dog is initially provided to give greater mobility and independence to the visually impaired, and then on retirement, if they choose to retain their dog, those benefits are lost. If they live alone, the alternative is to surrender their dog and apply for another. There is always the option of using a cane and going it alone, however this will never be able to take the place of the bond and the companionship that a dog provides.
Public access laws are in place to insure a dog is well behaved and trained, will not bite or attack others and to protect the general public. I believe a Guide dog who has been trained extensively since puppyhood does not lose its' inherent training upon retirement. Therefore, I believe it is unnecessary and unfair for retired guide dogs to lose their public access rights.
To overcome any health and safety issues, the retired guide dog handler could personally fund Guide Dogs to conduct a Public Access Test annually to insure the dog maintains its exemplary behaviour. The handler could also be issued with an ID card or documentation stating they are in the company of a retired guide dog.
Please petition the Queensland and Federal Government to make amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and the Guide, Hearing, and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 to allow Astra and other Guide dogs to keep their public access rights when they retire, and reward their years of service rather than sanction them.
To view the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 go to: https://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2013C00022
To view the Guide, Hearing, and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 go to: https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/ACTS/2009/09AC004.pdf:
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