Guide dogs ‘a blind person’s eyes’

Robin Giles and his guide dog Nixon.
Robin Giles and his guide dog Nixon.
Ian Carbutt

Ignorance and lack of training may be the reason Robin Giles is constantly stopped from entering some buildings with his guide dog.

Giles, a Montrose resident, said he has become accustomed to businesses and companies not allowing his guide dog inside, and Tuesday was no different when he visited the Pietermaritzburg Department of Home Affairs.

Giles and his wife, Felicity, were stopped by a security guard telling him he could not enter the office with a dog.

Eventually Giles said he spoke to the security guard’s supervisor, who allowed his dog, Nixon, inside.

“They even allowed me to stand at the front of the line,” he said.

Giles is a retired optometrist and was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which left him almost blind.

In 2006 he received his first guide dog, named Hudson, who has since retired and now lives with Giles.

“It is mostly a wonderful experience to have a guide dog, but people need to be aware and understand what to do and how to assist people with guide dogs,” he said.

He added that people needed to know that guide dogs “are the eyes of a blind person” and cannot be distracted or left outside a building without the handler.

Giles has since mounted a sign on Nixon’s harness that reads: “Do not distract. Guide dog working.”

He explained: “Since I put up the sign about two years ago, it has been a much better experience. The key is awareness and that is what people are lacking here.”

Giles, who has children in Australia, said when he visited the country “it was a wonderful experience”.

“The people there are completely aware of people with disabilities. There are even robots [traffic lights] that beep to alert the blind when they can cross.”

Giles offers informative talks at schools and companies on how to approach and accommodate the visually impaired and their guide dogs.

“My advice to people is that they should not call the dogs or talk to them. They are my eyes and if they look at you then they forget all about me,” he said.

He advised security companies to explain to guards that although a building may not allow animals inside, guide dogs were acceptable.

“It can be very frustrating at times and really unnecessary but I make a point of explaining to security guards why I need my dog with me even if they do not ask,” Giles said.

If you or your company want Giles to host a talk on dealing with guide dogs, contact him at 083 630 1810.

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