Photo Credits: Guide Dogs Singapore Ltd
Ever heard of this phrase, dogs are human’s best friend? This becomes more relevant when it comes to the visual impaired and their guide dogs! Knowing how much guide dogs are going to benefit the visual impaired, Guide Dogs Singapore is actively asking for donations from the public. A little goes a long way, you are going to make an impact on someone’s life! In this article, we will find out more about how it’s like to have a guide dog, featuring Alvin and Seretta!
Tell us more about you and Seretta!
I have light perception where I can only perceive the presence or absence of light. Seretta is a seven years old Golden Retriever and Labrador mix from Australia, Victoria; she comes from a lineage of guide dogs, as all guide dogs have to be specially bred from guide dog ancestors. We have been working as a team for 5 and a half years! We were the second guide dog team to be trained and graduated by Guide Dogs Singapore Ltd (GDS). I was nervous at how well we would work together, especially in an environment like Singapore that’s still new to guide dogs. Yet at the same time, I was excited at the prospect of increased independence and safety, as well as having a partner with me at all times, keeping me company and protecting me.
How did you first hear about guide dogs?
In 2006, I met the first guide dog team in Singapore by chance, and fell in ‘love at first touch’. I knew then that this was a path I wanted to go down on!
Why did you decide to get a guide dog?
I couldn’t get my first experience of meeting the guide dog out of my mind, so I rang Guide Dogs Singapore Ltd (GDS), then known as Guide Dogs Association of the Blind Ltd (GDAB), and said “I want a guide dog”. That was how my path towards being a guide dog handler started.
How tedious was the Orientation & Mobility (O&M) training for you?
One of the criteria before you can qualify for a guide dog is that you have to possess strong O&M skills. I was determined to be paired, so I worked extra hard to be efficient in my O&M skills. Even now, when I have Seretta, I still sometimes use my white cane as I do not want to lose my O&M skills.
How has your guide dog benefited your life?
Let me give you one good example to illustrate. Due to the recent building of the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line, there have been a lot changes to the roads around the Marine Parade area, where I live. Navigating around these new obstacles with a white cane would have been a really stressful situation as white cane users memorise their routes and use landmarks to guide them along, as part of mental mapping. When construction and changes take place, it disrupts what we know and impede our travels.
However, with a guide dog like Seretta, she helps me clear the obstacles with grace and ease. I would not even know the danger except for the increase in noise. I used to stay at home a lot before I got a guide dog. Since having Seretta, I have become more active and independent. I walk along the beach with her every day!
Tell us an interesting/touching encounter you had with your guide dog?
There was once when I was daydreaming while I was out with Seretta and I verbally instructed her to turn right when she knew I was supposed to turn left. She jerked her head around suddenly and that was when I realised that I had instructed her to turn right into a drain. This also displays something called ‘intelligent disobedience’ – guide dogs will disobey an instruction if it puts them or the handler in danger. Seretta is my eyes when I am out and about. I have complete trust in her. She ensures my safety and enables me to travel around freely.
Any downsides of having a guide dog you have faced currently?
Whenever I book a private hire car, I would include a note that says I am blind and travelling with a guide dog; and follow-up with a call once the booking has been accepted. I still get rejected on the phone even though I’ve stated in my notes as most drivers don’t have time to read their notes when they accept the job while on the road.
This can be extremely frustrating, especially when we’ve done our part as the commuter to inform earlier. Further, while being blind or visually impaired doesn’t mean we can’t do many things, it does mean we take a longer time to do certain things. Thus, in the case of my example, it does create more work for me to book another cab and more time will be lost.
What is one thing you hope to see change in Singapore?
It gives me a warm feeling when I hear people say “That’s a guide dog!”; it shows that people understand the duties and responsibilities of a guide dog, and how different it is from a pet dog. This really encourages GDS and fellow guide dog handlers, as it shows our outreach efforts have fruition. I believe with increased awareness, more people will accept guide dogs in public spaces and places, and we can move towards an inclusive society.
How can society help you and your guide dog integrate into society better?
Society can understand that guide dogs are specially bred, well-trained and highly disciplined. It is not encouraged to distract the guide dog while they are on the job (wearing a harness) as that would take their mind away from the task at hand. The best thing to do when you see a guide dog team on the move is to leave them alone. One thing society can definitely do is to be understanding and loving towards people with disabilities, and join hands with organisations like GDS to empower them.
To support Guide Dogs Singapore to train a new upcoming guide dog team, click/share the donation link: https://www.giving.sg/gds/igdd
Any advice for anyone who intends to get a guide dog?
Seretta is my everyday companion, my best friend. I don’t think I can go back to using a white cane now that I have gotten used to having a guide dog as my mobility aid. I encourage white cane users to seriously consider getting a guide dog. At the same time, white cane users must remember that choosing to have a guide dog is a choice (s)he has to make on his/her own and is a personal preference.