Legally blind mum Lorene has been refused entry to cafes and shops while with her guide dog – 9Honey


By April Glover| 7 hours ago
If you've ever wandered down the street in any Australian city, chances are you've come across someone like Lorene Mathis.
Mathis, 47, is a mother-of-three who also happens to be legally blind. Because she was born with a congenital glaucoma, she relies heavily on a guide dog to help navigate the world.
The Sydney mum has been working with Guide Dogs Australia for 12 years and has been with her second dog, DeeBee, for seven years. 
Mathis tells 9Honey in the past decade, she's had some "horrible" encounters with people who have no idea about the proper "petiquette" for guide dogs.
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"It can be horrible and really scary," Mathis says, revealing her beloved DeeBee was attacked by an off-lead dog two years ago. 
"It's quite disturbing and a lot of dogs end up retiring because of the anxiety and won't be able to work anymore. 
"I've been lucky with my dogs as they have overcome those fears, but I never want to be in that situation again."
As Mathis explains, it can be incredibly dangerous for guide dogs to be distracted by people or fellow dogs while they are working.
Guide dogs ensure the safety of their handlers as they walk down busy streets and even the tiniest diversion can be a huge threat.
Mathis says the worst offenders are dog owners who let their pooches run around off-lead.
"I live in a really dog-populated area, every second home has a dog," she says. "If I realise another dog is coming, I'll actually call out and ask them to take their dog across the road."
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If the dog isn't leashed, then Mathis is at the mercy of another pup's behaviour. It doesn't matter if they're just being "friendly", she warns. 
Her dog can't engage with another canine or person when they are guiding her along.
"DeeBee is watching out for cars polling from driveways, for gutters, overhanging branches or anything on the path she needs to take me around," Mathis says.
"She is always concentrating and the last thing she needs is to be engaged with another dog just because they're 'playful'."
Ryan Jones, Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, tells 9Honey that, while most people understand the right etiquette for guide dogs, it's more than just not patting the working pooch.
"Even things like making eye contact with the dog, getting down on the dog's level and making noises like whistling while it's out working can be really distracting," he explains.
"You can't really underestimate it, it can be life-threatening. The dog is doing a pretty serious job. If the dog isn't paying attention and is distracted by something else, they're not paying attention to the road or keeping their handler safe."
According to Guide Dogs Australia, over 40 per cent of handlers have seen an increase in their dogs dealing with unwanted distractions over the past 12 months.
Both Jones and Mathis attribute a lot of this to the rise in "pandemic puppies" and new dog owners not knowing the proper etiquette for guide dogs.
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"Pandemic puppies just exploded, and I know that puppy classes around Sydney are just jam-packed with new dogs," Jones says,
"So there are a lot of new dog owners who maybe don't have the experience to know how to behave around a guide dog."
Mathis, who lives in western Sydney, adds: "I walk to my local shopping centre every day and there's always at least two or three dogs tied up outside. There's so many dogs in this area."
A good rule of thumb for guide dogs is to not engage at all, walk across the other side of the road if you have a dog with you and only speak to the handler if you must approach.
"Give them a bit of space and don't engage with the dog, and if you are sitting somewhere next to somebody with a guide dog, it's important to talk to the person," Jones advises.
"Don't just start engaging with the dog, say hello to the person. It's completely okay to ask questions, but don't ever just approach the dog."
Sadly, Mathis says there is still a lot of work to be done in Australia to accommodate low vision people and their guide dogs.
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The mum has been kicked out of stores and cafes for having DeeBee or her old dog, Claire, with her, despite explaining her situation.
"There are still taxis, cafes or restaurants who will refuse you entry just for having a guide dog," she says. "It happens at least every few weeks, even though it's illegal. They just say, 'No, it's a dog, get it out of here'."
"Would you tell somebody in a wheelchair to get their wheelchair out? It's the same thing."
In these situations, Mathis has a little card which explains that refusing entry for a guide dog is a crime.
"I sometimes tell them, I can call the police and you can be fined," she adds. "But it's funny, once I am refused entry somewhere, I don't even want to go in or eat there anymore."
A client survey by Guide Dogs Australia also found that 70 per cent of guide dog handlers report "poor pettiquette" from owners and their pet dogs.
Mathis just hopes that people can learn, understand and educate themselves when it comes to guide dogs so she and other low vision handlers exist safely.
"It's just common sense to keep a distance. The worst thing you can do is touch a guide dog," Mathis says.
"At the end of the day, they are still dogs and they respond to pats, so we need to keep them as focussed as possible."
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