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Guide Dogging Around The World in 75 Minutes

Editor's Note: Editors Note: The following article is re-printed from The Harness, February, 2002.

On the Saturday afternoon of the guide dog conference at the CNIB's Lake Joseph Holiday Centre in the Muskokas of Ontario, a panel of four guide dog users took us on a whirlwind trip through Europe and the Middle East.

The first to speak was Nigel Rhodes whose guide dog, Oscar gave us a quick synopsis of their trip to Europe. Oscar recalled that in France, the sidewalks were hardly wide enough for both his dad and himself. And as if that wasn't enough to cramp a guide dog's style, they also had to share the sidewalks with motorcycles and scooters. Oscar's recollection of Monaco was that he wasn't allowed into either the old or was that he wasn't allowed into either the old or new casino. Geneva Switzerland reminded Oscar of home with its orderly traffic, wider sidewalks, and straighter crossings at intersections. When they traveled to Basel, Switzerland, Oscar had the chance to chat with the administrator of the guide dog training centre located there, but didn't go on a tour because the centre does domicillary training out of their students' homes.

The wider sidewalks in Luxembourg were also a welcome relief for Oscar, but relief areas were definitely at a premium until they reached the one and only park which runs through much of Luxembourg City. In Belgium, it was back to narrow streets, unrecognizable sidewalks, and strange traffic patterns. Oscar recalled finding it difficult to navigate in the open squares of Antwerp because of the crowds of people shopping, and the fact that there were no cars. He also recalled the canals running through the town of Bruges. He remembered meeting a lady whose guide dog had been trained at the centre in Belgium. Oscar said the dog didn't seem to have a clue what a leash correction was, and wore a collar that wasn't set to tighten when necessary. Oscar said that because the trainer used to hit the dog, the woman thought she had a stupid dog. But when he showed the lady how to bring her dog's attention to obstacles, the dog understood on the second try.

Getting around in Amsterdam proved to be quite difficult because of almost no sidewalks, nowhere for a dignified guide dog to do his business, bicycles coming from everywhere, and very few straight line crossings. Oscar's chief recollection of Amsterdam, however, was being denied access into Anne Frank's house, given that the spirit running through the whole of Anne Frank's diary was one of tolerance and understanding. But officials told Oscar and his dad that even the sniffer dogs that preceded a visit by Bill Clinton were denied entry. The reason given was that other tourists might be startled to meet a dog in the museum 92s narrow stairwells, or in the attic annex where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis.

Next to speak was Anne Musgrave on her trip with guide dog Edna to Israel. She told the audience that she and Edna had no problems visiting secular sites. Religious sites, however, were quite another story because beliefs are so much more deeply rooted. It didn't help to have an Israeli tour guide telling a Palestinian bishop that he had to let a guide dog enter his church. Anne said that she was particularly disappointed that she couldn't get into either the Church of The Nativity or the Church of The Holy Sepulchre. Edna didn't get the chance to have a swim in the Dead Sea either, but that was for the good of her health. Anne said the water was poisonous. She licked her fingers, and the water had a fowl taste to it. Anne concluded by saying that each guide dog user is bound to have a different experience, largely because of people's differing attitudes.

Nayla Farrah, who is originally from Lebanon, said that people in her homeland don't know anything about guide dogs, and that as far as she knew, she was only the second person with a dog to visit Lebanon. She said that there are no access laws, which means that visitors are pretty much at the mercy of business owners. She said that if a proprietor thought that she was on her own, he had no problem telling her that she couldn't bring her dog. But on learning that five other people would cancel their reservations if she wasn't allowed in, his tune changed considerably. Nayla recalled being refused entry into the museum dedicated to the author of The Prophet. When she reminded them that Gibran would have been unhappy with their decision, they relented and let her in.

Our last stop was Krakau, Poland, and our speaker was Frances Lake. She began by saying that when she flew from Krakau to Warsaw, she had no difficulty getting her guide dog onto the plane because the pilot was Canadian. Once in Warsaw, though, she encountered both taxi drivers and restaurant owners who either refused her outright, or levied an extra charge because of the presence of her guide dog. Frances had no problem travelling from Warsaw to The Ukraine, but on the return trip to Poland, the conductor wanted Frances to pay extra for her dog. The same thing happened on her return trip to Canada despite the fact that she was using the same airline she had used to travel to Poland. A flight attendant intervened on her behalf, though, and by the end of the flight, the pilot was thoroughly convinced that an extra charge shouldn't be levied.

When moderator Chris Chamberlin had given us safe passage back to reality, it was time for the numerous guide dogs in attendance to do some serious travelling of their own. The choices included either a doggie swim, or a hike along the nature trail.