Behind The News: Léan Kennedy, Irish Guide Dogs

New campaign focuses on right of access for guide and assistance dogs to food premises

Léan Kennedy (left) of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind: “Guide dogs are trained to sit under the table where their owner is sitting.” Photograph: Fennell Photography

Léan Kennedy (left) of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind: “Guide dogs are trained to sit under the table where their owner is sitting.” Photograph: Fennell Photography

 

Léan Kennedy gets a couple of phone calls a week from owners of guide or assistance dogs, saying that they’ve been refused access to food premises.

“In most cases, the food business owner is afraid that they might be disregarding food hygiene regulations,” says Kennedy.

This week, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (fsai.ie) and the Irish Guide Dogs Association launched an information campaign explaining that guide and assistance dogs are exempt from food hygiene regulations.

“Our campaign is really just to clarify that all guide and assistance dogs including companion dogs and puppies in training are allowed into cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and delis,” says Kennedy.

Guide dogs are used by people who are blind or visually impaired while assistance dogs are used by children with autism. Environmental Health Officers are aware of the FSAI guidelines on the right of access for these trained dogs into food premises.

“Our dogs don’t interfere with other customers. They are trained to sit under the table where their owner is sitting and not to sniff around or pester other people,” says Kennedy. Guide and assistance dogs are also on a lead at all times, and they meet a very high standard in terms of training, grooming and veterinary care, according to Kennedy.

One of the biggest issues faced by owners of guide or assistance dogs is when other people want to interact with their dog. “Our message is that they are working dogs. They are keeping their owners safe at all times in public places and they shouldn’t be distracted,” says Kennedy.

Irish Guide Dogs also emphasises that if people want to interact with a guide or assistance dog, they should always ask the owner first and respect the owner if she/he declines. “It’s hard to resist the dogs because they are very cute and sociable but it’s important for people not to take offence if the owner says no to petting the dog.”

Guide and assistance dogs – usually golden retrievers or Labradors – are bred by Irish Guide Dogs and trained from when they are two-month-old puppies. “They are trained to focus on the commands they are given and not to look for attention,” says Kennedy.

When they are 12 months old, the dogs are brought to the Irish Guide Dogs training centre in Cork for six months further training. There, it is decided whether they will be guide dogs or assistance dogs.

“Guide dogs need to have good initiative as there may be incidents when they have to decide what to do if there is a hazard on the footpath or road whereas assistance dogs – who are attached to children at their waist – don’t need this. They are trained to sit down and be an anchor for the child who feels over stimulated and might want to escape,” says Kennedy.

Irish Guide Dogs remain in contact with the owners of guide and assistance dogs throughout the dog’s working life. There are about 450 guide or assistance dogs trained by Irish Guide Dogs who are currently working with individuals.

Irish Guide Dogs have a stand at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS today and tomorrow. Their headquarters in Cork will be open to the public on Saturday, August 29th. See also guidedogs.ie

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