'Ignorant bullies' still giving us a dog's life

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 September 2012

Ajax with her dog Bruno.

Ajax with her dog Bruno.

Archant

THE success of Britain's Paralympian athletes may have shown how brilliantly disabled people can triumph over adversity, but many of those who use guide dogs are still facing regular battles against prejudice, according to one charity.

Dog AID, a group set up to help provide guide dogs for those with disabilities using any breed – not just labradors – has echoed the findings of a report by disability charity Scope.

It claimed attitudes to disabled people have worsened in the past year thanks, in part, to media reports of benefits ‘scroungers’ and those faking ailments. This has led to hostility and abuse towards those with genuine conditions.

Ajax Kone, aged 42, of Lyons Court, Weston, is one of those to have suffered. She uses her six-year-old Border collie Bruno to help her get around due to sight and hearing problems. But she says ‘ignorant bullies’ do not understand how her assistance dog has helped her live a normal life.

Dog AID (Assistance In Disability), a registered charity, allows people to use their own dogs as guide dogs. This means a dog of any breed, subject to a vet’s exam, can be trained by one of the charity’s volunteers to help disabled people live normal lives.

Ajax said: “Dog AID is fabulous. It has given me my life back.”

However, Ajax and Bruno have had to withstand verbal abuse and even attacks in the street.

Ajax said: “In this town particularly, a lot of people don’t recognise the Dog AID symbol.

“I was in a chip shop this week and a group of men was at the table next to me. One of them turned to me and started shouting, saying ‘that dog shouldn’t be allowed in here’.

“I said ‘he’s an assistant dog, and all guide dogs are allowed to be in public places’. I got my ID card out, which I use when I’m challenged, and he pushed it away, got in his van and drove off.”

It is not the only time Ajax and Bruno have encountered problems – they often have issues with people leaving dogs like Staffordshire bull terriers off their leads, which then go after Bruno. She described an experience in a pub which saw men set a boxer dog on him.

She said: “They were shouting ‘fight, fight, fight’, and we were pinned to the wall. The landlord did nothing and it was only the barmaid who said ‘you can’t do that to a guide dog’.

“Bruno has been trained not to respond to other dogs. He was turning his head to me and crying. I didn’t know what to do.”

Another incident saw a cyclist try to mug Ajax in public – he cycled towards her and made a grab for her handbag, only for Ajax to kick his back wheel and force him away.

She added: “I think he thought I was blind, because of the glasses, that’s why he came straight towards me.”

But Ajax is not blind, she has a visual condition called partial achromatopsia, which means she has very little peripheral vision and is very sensitive to light – requiring 600UV protection sunglasses in the daytime, even indoors. She also suffers from auditory dyslexia.

Bruno went through three years of training to become an internationally-accredited assistant dog and was rigorously trained by one of the charity’s volunteers.

Ajax says getting Bruno trained has changed her life – which is why it makes the abuse so difficult to take.

She added: “It is sad that there are still ignorant people who bully disabled people with assistant dogs.

“I get a lot of abuse towards me from people who think I’m blind. It’s absolutely atrocious.

“It makes me feel nervous and anxious and makes being in some public places difficult. That goes completely against the objective of what my assistant dog is there for.”

Sandra Fraser, a member of Dog AID, said: “It’s not uncommon for people to receive abuse. We have had one client in a wheelchair whose dog was rammed by a shopping trolley. Another client’s dog was kicked by a child in public. It seems to be a cultural thing, some people see them simply as ‘dirty’ dogs, not assistant dogs.

“Of course, there are people who have put a jacket on a dog which has not been trained properly.

“But if people are shown an ID card, they should believe it and not subject people to prejudice.”

To find out more about Dog AID, go to www.dog-aid.org.uk or call 01543 899463.

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