[nagdu] NFB and Dogs

Ann Edie annedie at nycap.rr.com
Sat Aug 13 20:49:17 UTC 2011

Hi, Dan and everyone,

It seems as if I've known about guide dogs all my life, and since I've 
always loved animals and always had pet dogs and other animals, I just grew 
up knowing that I wanted to have a guide dog some day.  Of course, I grew up 
as a "partial", and in those days we weren't even taught to use a cane, 
although I was far from capable of being an independent traveler without 
such mobility aids.  So, for a long time I thought I had too much vision to 
get a guide dog.

I also grew up in the shadow of The Seeing Eye, so I absorbed a lot of that 
organization's propaganda, or, I mean, public information.  I believed the 
message that guide dog handlers were the cream of the blindness crop, as it 
were, the most competent, independent, and integrated into the general 
society.  So, of course, I aspired to that same status.

I had my first in-depth exposure to a guide dog when I attended a summer 
camp for blind children, and we had a blind man for a music counselor who 
had a German shepherd from the Seeing Eye.  Typically, I don't remember the 
man's name, but I do remember the dog's name; it was Gem.  I do remember 
trying to sit close enough to the counselor to sneak a pet of his dog during 
our music classes.  I also remember that the man would put a muzzle on his 
dog one day a week, just to make sure the dog was accustomed to wearing the 
muzzle, as it was still a rule at that time that dogs could be ordered to be 
muzzled on public transportation, if the driver asked for it.  And one day a 
week, the man would not work his dog in harness, but would heel him on leash 
instead, just to give the dog a day off."

I also remember that in the suburban town where I lived, there were always 
rumors flying about a man who had another GSD guide dog from the Seeing Eye. 
The man, like many of the working men in the town, would walk to the town's 
train station and take the train into NYC to work.  Rumor had it that this 
man was very mean to his dog, and that the man would often jerk hard on the 
leash and hit or kick the dog because the dog would balk at going up the 
very steep and high steps to the train cars that we had in those days.  They 
said that the dog was afraid of the train and would cringe and whine. 
Everyone pitied the poor dog, but I guess they were afraid to question the 
man and I guess no one thought of the idea of calling the school to express 
their concerns.  Of course, in those days dog handling techniques were much 
harsher than those we have available today.

I don't remember hearing anything much about the NFB when I was a child, 
although I can see why the NFB leadership put so much emphasis on the use of 
the white cane, because both blind people and the use of the white cane were 
pretty much disrespected and discounted by the professionals who worked with 
blind people at that time.  I can remember some rehab counselors laughing 
and joking about sending us New Jersey kids out to Iowa, if we didn't behave 
the way they thought good little blind teenagers should behave.  That was 
back in the days when Kenneth Jernigan headed the Iowa Commission for the 
Blind, I believe.  So I don't think they thought much of the NFB and its 

When I finally did get my first guide dog in 1991, after several years of 
using the cane full-time as my mobility device, I celebrated this as a 
further advancing step into independence as a blind traveler.  And I was 
pleased by the positive effects the use of the guide dog seemed to have on 
my image as an independent blind person with members of the general public. 
So I was quite startled and shocked when I attended my first National NFB 
Convention in 1993, as a member of that year's scholarship class, to feel a 
definite prejudice against guide dog users as less competent and independent 
travelers than those who used the long white cane, and certainly having less 
potential to become leaders within the organization.

I can understand why the cane using leadership of the NFB objected to the 
messages coming out of the guide dog training programs which portrayed the 
dogs as giving dignity to pitiful blind people and portrayed the guide dog 
handler as the elite among the blind.  But at the same time, I don't think 
the NFB leadership should have attempted to build up the image of the cane 
traveler by knocking down the image of the guide dog user.  I sincerely hope 
that by this point in our history as a civil rights movement, that we can 
all respect the mobility decisions of our comrades and accept them as 
equally worthy of first class citizenship both within the society in general 
and within the blind community.

While I'm on the subject of change within organizations, I will fast forward 
to 2001, when I attended the National Convention of the NFB in Philadelphia. 
That year, one of the hot topics was the recent emergence of an organization 
which proposed to train miniature horses to serve as guides for blind 
people.  At the time, I was exploring this new mobility option for myself, 
and I had followed with some distress the unfolding saga of the strident 
opposition of NAGDU leadership to the Guide Horse Foundation and to the 
whole idea of miniature horse guides.  There had been an "exposee" of the 
Guide Horse Foundation written by the NAGDU leaders of the time and 
published in the Braille Monitor, I think in April of that year.  And I knew 
that there was a resolution in the works to express the NFB's opposition to 
the GHF and the use of miniature horses as guides.

During the convention, I made a point of seeking out and speaking with the 
NAGDU president and other leaders who were proposing the resolution, to 
attempt to bring a bit of perspective to their views.  But I was not very 
successful in this.  I also attended the meeting of the Resolutions 
Committee, (or was it a meeting of the Board of Directors?), at which 
proposed resolutions are discussed and prepared for presentation to the 
entire convention for adoption.  At that meeting, only members of the 
committee and the people proposing resolutions are permitted to speak. 
However, the large and quite boisterous audience certainly made their 
feelings known about the notion of miniature horses as guides, through the 
frequent gales of laughter, clip-clopping and loud neighing and whinnying 
sounds that filled the hall when the resolution against guide horses was 
brought up.  It was obvious that the organization's leadership and 
membership had already made up its collective mind about this subject, and 
that they considered it an opportunity for high fribolity and good 
comeraderie at the expense of benighted do-gooders who knew nothing about 
blind people or their mobility needs.  While NAGDU was congratulating itself 
on the fact that the NFB leadership was demonstrating its acceptance of 
guide dog handlers and of NAGDU as a full equal among NFB divisions by 
actually considering a resolution proposed by NAGDU, I was again left 
wondering why blind people had to try to enhance their own value by knocking 
down others for simply thinking or doing something differently from the way 
they themselves thought or did things.  It was obvious to me that these 
people knew nothing about miniature horses or their potential as guide 
animals, and that they were just operating on misconceptions and 
stereotypes, the same type of behavior the NFB was organized to fight on 
behalf of blind people.  In the end, of course, the revised anti-guide-horse 
resolution was passed by the full convention.  And as far as I know, it has 
never been repudiated or modified by subsequent action of the NFB.

This being said, in the years since 2001, and despite the fact that I did 
choose to obtain a miniature horse guide for my own use and have been 
successfully and happily working with that guide partner for over eight 
years now, I have remained a member of NAGDU and have benefited from the 
support of many NAGDU members and the information and discussions of 
numerous topics on this NAGDU e-mail list.  I have never been asked to leave 
the list and have never been denied membership in NAGDU nor any benefit of 
that membership.  NAGDU's current President was even gracious enough to put 
in a good word for guide horse users in the public comments which led up to 
the recent revisions in the regulations concerning service animals under the 
ADA.  The new regulations, in the end, did restrict the definition of 
service animals to dogs and, with some additional caviots, miniature horses, 
while all other species were denied the designation as service animals under 
the ADA, which was a strong vindication of miniature horses as legitimate 
service animals.

In summary, it is my impression that within the NFB, cane users still enjoy 
a better image as competent, independent blind people than do guide dog 
users, although this would probably no longer be openly admitted.  However, 
in society in general, I think guide dog users are more highly thought of 
(although not consciously) than cane using blind people.  As for those of us 
who have chosen to work with miniature horses as our guide animals, while we 
may still be the objects of ridicule to many among the NFB leaders and 
perhaps to some other blind people, we are undeserved, but definite, 
celebrities among the general public.  To me, it is always an interesting 
experience to feel the changes in one's own status and regard as one moves 
between settings and groups and communities, from family, to educational 
setting, to professional settings, to foreign countries, and to special 
interest sub-communities, such as blindness organizations, and groups 
organized around politics, beliefs, or interests, and to observe how the 
different opinions of people around one can mess with one's mind and affect 
one's own self-image and self-esteem.

As always, thanks for the opportunity for an interesting discussion and 
exchange of thoughts.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dan Weiner" <dcwein at dcwein.cnc.net>
To: "'NAGDU Mailing List,the National Association of Guide Dog Users'" 
<nagdu at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Saturday, August 13, 2011 12:30 PM
Subject: Re: [nagdu] NFB and Dogs

>I know, what I'll do to respect other people is I'll put a big zip lock bag
> over my dog so they won't have to touch him, be licked or anything else.
> That way  I can be totally respectful and all the dog guide-haters will 
> just
> love me for being such a good sport.
> I'll punch some holes in the front part so my dog can breath, and woops,
> I'll need some way for him to actually see so he can guide me.
> The proceeding was sarcasm.
> If you want an example of the reasons for concern among dog users of the 
> try to find and read the October 1995 Monitor which was dedicated solely 
> to
> guide dog bashing.
> Fortunately, either more tolerance is abroad in the land or those who feel
> that dog guides are abhorrent have toned their public remonstrations down 
> or
> changed their mind.
> I have never been happy with how the NFB centers deal with guide dog 
> issues,
> and especially with the case of Stephanie Doman, (spelling)?  In the Iowa
> Center.
> I know that just the average Federationist like me is not intolerant and I
> like my Greater Orlando chapter and I have been in the Federation since I
> was a kid-smile.
> I believe that, at the risk of flattering Marion, that his leadership of
> NAGDU has done a lot to change the situation and I applaud him, plus I've
> known the guy for 20 years and if he can put up with me then he must be a
> great guy--lol.
> Now, here's an interesting question.
> Thos e of us who have dogs now, what was our impression of guide dogs 
> before
> we got a dog?
> I always loved dogs and thought a guide dog was a wonderful idea.
> My thing was that I met a few people over the years who seemed to be 
> control
> freaks and I felt sorry for the dogs.
> I'd meet people who were correcting or shouting "phooey" at the dog and I
> said to myself "poor dog, why do I want to get a dog if I need to scold it
> all the time".
> Then I met other people like Sherri Brun from Orlando who were great to
> their dogs and the dogs themselves were adorable.
> Now, as a guide dog user I know things happen, people need to correct, and
> so on, butt's interesting to think back on that.
> Dan W. and the Carter Nut
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