Please no patting: I have a job to do
DISTRACTING a working guide dog could have disastrous consequences.
That's the message from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who this week teamed with local firefighters to remind people not to interact with guide dogs assisting those who are vision impaired.
Guide Dog's Respect My Uniform campaign urges people to resist patting, feeding or otherwise interacting with working guide dogs.
The organisation said like other professionals such as firefighters or police, when guide dogs are in uniform - an easily-recognisable harness - they have an important role to fulfil.
"Any distraction of a working guide dog can put its handler's safety at risk," Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO Graeme White said.
"If a guide dog is distracted while guiding its handler across the road, the consequences could be tragic."
Dr White said 89% of guide dog handlers reported having their dog distracted by the public in the past 12 months.
He said one well-intentioned pat could undo two years of intensive training and cause stress and anxiety for the dog.
Local handler Sally Jary said her guide dog Kent can lose focus and go off-course when distracted.
"This can put us both at risk," she said.
"It's important for people to know that when he's got his uniform on, he's working."
Guide Dogs is asking the public not to feed or pat guide dogs, grab a handler or a dog's harness, and if assisting a vision-impaired person, to ask first and walk on the opposite side to the dog.
Ongoing distraction can result in premature retirement of a guide dog, which cost more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train.