Visually impaired woman ‘screamed at’ after asking man to stop stroking her guide dog

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 10:41 am
71% of guide dog owners claim their dog is distracted by strangers at least once a day, according to charity Guide Dogs UK (image: PA)

A prominent disability influencer who is visually impaired was “screamed at” by a man after she politely asked him to stop petting her guide dog.

Dr Amy Kavanagh, who has a complex visual impairment called Ocular Albinism, was paired up with her guide dog Ava a year ago.

Despite Ava’s training and willingness to work hard, she told PA the pair were often put into dangerous situations by passers-by wanting to fuss over the dog.

‘People will try and pet her’

London-based Dr Kavanagh has shared her experiences to highlight the difficulties faced by disabled people and their guide dogs.

She has even recorded a video from Ava’s point of view showing the distractions the dog has to cope with “pretty much every time” the pair go out (see below).

The activist, who frequently appears in the media - including on shows such as BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme and Sky News, said distractions had an impact on both her and the dog.

Dr Kavanagh said: “People will try and pet her or whistle at her while she is working and it can be confusing for me because she is my eyes.

“If she stops and does a different movement, I can think it’s because of a hazard like a set of steps or a car on the pavement and it can be really stressful or frightening.

“I had a woman pet her earlier this week just as Ava was showing me where the gap was at a train platform. That is the real risk and not to sound dramatic but we could die. She could be stopping me walking out in front of cars or falling down the stairs.”

Dr Kavanagh added that sometimes Ava can also get distressed and can lose focus after being approached by members of the public.

She explained: “Her body language changes and she usually loves her job and loves being in busy places, but one example where it happened, she had a little cry because she was distracted. Sometimes she has been really distressed after.”

While Dr Kavanagh said she tries to explain to people why they cannot pet Ava while she is working, they would sometimes put “their want to play with a dog above my boundaries.”

This behaviour included an incident in a cafe where a man screamed at her after she politely told him not to pet Ava.

Dr Kavanagh said this behaviour sometimes came from a place of kindness, with people thinking Ava never gets to clock off, but she insisted the dog does get time off.

She added: “She’s my baby. She doesn’t usually work more than three hours a day and she has toys and treats and we go for off-lead walks and I take my cane and she can play.

“People don’t understand that she’s not working 24/7.”

Guide dog owners distracted

Dr Kavanagh’s comments come as Guide Dogs UK - a charity for the blind and partially sighted - revealed figures that showed 71% of guide dog owners claim their dog is distracted by strangers at least once a day and 24% said it happens at least once a week.

Guide Dogs then polled the public and found that 28% of respondents admitted they had stopped and distracted a guide dog while it was working, with a further 40% admitting they’d been tempted.

These distractions mostly took the form of petting or touching.

But 9% of the public said they had even tried to feed a guide dog.

The charity has released the figures as part of its ‘Don’t Dive on the Dog’ initiative, which aims to encourage people to treat guide dogs as they would other working professionals.

Additional reporting by PA