By Shanna Stichler
International Guide Dog Day is always the last Wednesday in April. This is a time to celebrate the important role that all guide dogs, but especially my good friend Diamond, play in the lives of blind and visually impaired handlers around the world.
What are guide dogs anyway?
Guide dogs are specially trained to help their people in several unique capacities. They can guide their handler down a busy sidewalk without their partner running into any light poles, newspaper stands, or outdoor seating areas which could pose a hazard for the team. Guide dogs stop at both the top and bottom of staircases to make sure their person is safe to continue.
Most importantly, guide dogs learn a skill called Intelligent Disobedience. Dogs learn that they must not proceed forward unless they’re absolutely sure their handler understands that dangerous travel conditions may be ahead. For instance, if Diamond and I are crossing a driveway, and a very quiet car cuts us off before I can ask Diamond to proceed, she refuses to move until the offending vehicle has driven away from the intersection.
Guide dogs also learn how to turn left and turn right and locate various useful objects we come across frequently. Some of these objects include steps (both up and down) doorways (in or outside,) counters, empty chairs, and the all-important garbage receptacle! Many dogs can also find escalators, public buses, and elevators.
Guide Dog laws in the United States
In the United States, Guide Dogs are covered by a thing called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) For more questions about service animals in businesses or other places of public accommodation, please check out the guidelines at the ADA Website.
Basically, the important facts are that all guide or service dogs are legally permitted to accompany their handlers anywhere the general public is permitted access. These areas include restaurants, ride share services like Uber and Lyft, taxi cabs and movie theaters. Diamond has accompanied me on stage many times while performing in concerts providing her unique experiences as a performer and a spectator.
Guide dogs are the forerunners of the service dog movement so popular today, so as a handler myself, it is important to give these amazing guide dogs 10 paws up for all their hard work. Oh, all right and a few treats too!
Thanks, Guide Dogs!
So, Cheers to my current, previous and retired working guides who have given me so very much throughout their years of service.
Perry: Male Black Labrador Retriever
Jenkins: Male Yellow Labrador Retriever
Neema: Yellow Labrador Retriever
Nestle: Female Black Labrador Retriever
Diamond, my current guide and companion: Female German Shepherd We don’t want to forget our Tevra Brands mascot Nellie, a female yellow lab, who never quite made guiding a career. She and our friends from Leader Dogs for the Blind help us celebrate International Guide Dog Week as we work together to help dogs help people “Live a Life Without Boundaries!”