[nagdu] NFB and Dogs
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
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
> 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
> 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
> changed their mind.
> I have never been happy with how the NFB centers deal with guide dog
> and especially with the case of Stephanie Doman, (spelling)? In the Iowa
> 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
> 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
> 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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> nagdu at nfbnet.org
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