Monday, September 16, 2013

Guide dog in Singapore

I fist blogged about Esme back in December 2011 when she first arrived.

2.5 years has passed and Esme and her handler Cassandra are still being discriminated today. See articles below.

As I have blogged back in 2012, I first know about guide dogs after watching a documentary 30 years ago. It is strange that Singapore being a “first” world county and is so ignorant on welfare and social issue.


TITLE: Public education on guide dogs 'needs to be ramped up'

10 Sep

It has been two years since Esme the guide dog arrived in Singapore to help her blind handler Cassandra Chiu navigate Singapore's streets and buildings, but the duo are still regularly turned away at restaurants and retail stores.

SINGAPORE: It has been two years since Esme the guide dog arrived in Singapore to help her blind handler Cassandra Chiu navigate Singapore's streets and buildings, but the duo are still regularly turned away at restaurants and retail stores.

Last Sunday, ice-cream chain Haagen-Dazs refused Ms Chiu and her dog indoor seating, even though she presented the manager with a photo identity card supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to allow guide dogs into public places.

Describing the incident on Esme's Facebook page, Ms Chiu said the cafe staff repeatedly told her no pets were allowed, even though she had explained that Esme was not a pet but a working dog to assist the blind. The group eventually left.

Pets and animals are not allowed into food outlets unless the establishment is licensed to do so, but guide dogs are exempted from the rule.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore also states that halal-certified eateries can allow guide dogs on their premises.

Contacted on Monday, Ms Chiu said a staff member from Haagen-Dazs had called to apologise.

"I had explained many times that this is not a pet - this is a guide dog and I need it as I am blind. At the end of the day, it is not about Haagen-Dazs or any particular merchant. It's about my basic right to go about doing normal day-to-day activities."

Although rules are on her side, it is still "down to the people on the ground" to permit them entry. "On a daily basis, I suffer rejections at least once or twice, mostly at eating places, including coffee shops," said Ms Chiu, who added that this problem has pushed her to turn to shopping online instead of at stores. Public transport was once a major problem but the situation has since improved, although taxis still remain an issue, she added.

Responding to media queries, Haagen-Dazs' Managing Director for Asian Markets Wuthichai Ratanasumawongs said: "We sincerely apologise for this mistake in judgment made by our shop staff. It was wrong, and we are taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again. While we are taking steps, we need some more time to investigate and finalise the action steps. Once again, our sincere apologies to all."

Dr Francis Seow-Choen, Chairman of the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, said businesses' concerns include the fear that giving guide dogs entry is against government regulations, that the dogs may offend Muslim customers, or that the animals may urinate or defecate on the premises.

He gave the assurance that guide dogs are well-disciplined. "They pee or poop only on command. They are trained not to bark, and not to be distracted by other humans, cats, rats or small animals. They also don't go around sniffing people." He added that public education on guide dogs needs to be ramped up, as there are plans to bring in more of them in future.

Singapore welcomed its first guide dog in 2005, followed by Esme in 2011, and a third last year.


Life with Esme, the guide dog

My Paper follows blind psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu and guide dog Esme around on a typical day out and about. -My Paper

Joy Fang

Mon, Dec 03, 2012

My Paper

SINGAPORE - Last Saturday, psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu made the news when her Facebook post about how she was treated at a Forever 21 clothing outlet went viral.

Ms Chiu, who is blind, had her guide dog with her at the store, and was repeatedly stopped by staff.

Such incidences, sadly, are common in her life.

"Many Singaporeans have not understood or accepted the use of a guide dog. They are not ready yet," said Ms Chiu, who is the second person in Singapore to be matched with a guide dog.

Under the law, such dogs are allowed everywhere, including on MRT trains, in hospitals and in halal restaurants, except hospital operating theatres and the zoo.

But the 33-year-old said she often faces negative reactions whenever she takes Esme, her Labrador guide dog, into shops, eateries and other indoor public places.

She has been scolded and refused entry into places when Esme is with her. Once, at International Plaza, she and her friends were rejected by three restaurants in a row.

When this happens, she tries to show the staff the legislation regarding guide dogs and her Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped member's identification card, in order to explain her need for a guide dog, usually to no avail.

Once, she was even pushed down an escalator by an angry shopper who couldn't understand why Ms Chiu had to take a dog into a mall. Ms Chiu had to be tended to by paramedics.

That is why there are few guide dogs here, as blind people are unable to get past the fear of rejection, she said.

Ultimately, it is "down to the retail manager of the shop and how understanding and sympathetic he is to the use of a guide dog", she said.

"Many basically don't care, even though there is legislation in place."

This is unlike in countries such as the United States, Australia or Japan, where rejecting a blind person with a guide dog can be seen as discrimination. A company or person who treats a person with a guide dog differently can be subject to prosecution.