Q What should we be aware of when working with guide dogs and their owners?
Guide dog programs strongly suggest that visually impaired clients and their guide dogs visit their veterinary practices shortly after graduating from a program, says Ed Eames, PhD, president of International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Assuming the blind client has never been to your practice, Eames says, consider this as the first wellness visit. Here are some suggestions to make the initial meeting run as smoothly as possible:
- Be flexible with appointments. Clients' schedules may be restricted because they need to take public transportation to your practice.
- Don't ask blind clients to take a seat over there. "Pointing a finger and nodding the head breaks down rather than fosters communication," he says.
- If clients need to fill out forms, offer to take them aside to collect the requested information. "In no case should you grab the client's hand, arm, or elbow and propel him along," Eames says. Ask clients if they'd like to be guided by a team member of if they'd prefer to use their guide dogs to maneuver around the hospital.
- Greet the patient in a quite voice because it's important not to excite her while she's in the harness, Eames says. Before the examination begins, ask the client to remove the harness so that the dog knows she's off duty and has permission to interact with the staff. And there's no need to be timid. Guide dogs are compliant, friendly, and know basic obedience commands.
- Don't forget to walk through at-home care. Blind clients may need hands-on demonstrations of procedures, such as ear and teeth cleaning or administration of flea and tick treatment to maintain the dog's wellbeing.
- An almost universal concern of guide dog training programs, Eames says, is the tendency for the dogs to put on weight after going home with their owners. "Even in the early exams, it's worthwhile to emphasize the need for weight control," he says.
- If there are relevant handouts, offer to read the material out loud. Not all blind clients have access to readers.