Is a Guide Dog a Service Animal?

Is a Guide Dog a Service Animal?

It used to be that whenever a person encountered a guide dog, they assumed it was a Seeing Eye ® dog. They called all guide dog Seeing Eye dogs, or maybe blind dogs or eye dogs. The point is, they knew the dog’s purpose was to help a blind person, even if they didn’t know the proper term. They also didn’t know that there are many dog guide training schools in the U.S. and even in other countries. Many of them are top notch, but The Seeing Eye was the first one in our country and remains one of the best. I might say THE best, but I know of many fine dogs from other schools.

But nowadays, the term that most people use is “service animal.” It has appeared in all media as the dog that is allowed to ride on planes, accompany their handlers in restaurants and even in medical buildings. Service animals recently have been defined as dogs only. In other words, you can’t have a cat that can be accepted as a service animal. You can look up all that information on line, so I won’t go into that here. My purpose in writing about this subject is that we seem to have gone full circle. When I encounter people with questions about my dog, they want to know about my “service animal.” For some reason, this rubs me the wrong way. I am very proud that she is a graduate of The Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J. I don’t like it that she is lumped in with that vague term of “service animals.” In fact, today I will go so far as to say that young people don’t even understand what service she provides.

I was walking with Dora in my neighborhood the other day, when a dog seemed to appear out of nowhere right in front of Dora and was barking its head off. Of course I stopped Dora and tried to make myself look as big and authoritative as possible and yelled “No!” toward the barking dog. The young girl with the dog must have giggled or made some sort of comment—I can’t remember now, because I was more concerned with Dora’s safety—but I did ask, “Do you have your dog under control?” She said she did, but obviously she did not. In my community, it’s a misdemeanor to distract a guide dog while it’s working and I could have reported her. She would have been given a fine. But all I wanted to do was get away from that obnoxious dog. Most of the time, the obnoxious dogs are in their own yards, and Dora just ignores them, but this was a little too close for comfort. BTW, yelling NO at a dog that comes running toward us is my usual response. I believe that “no” is a word they are used to hearing, and it usually stops them long enough for us to move along. As usual, I regretted not stopping to talk to the child and explain to her how her dog was preventing my dog from doing her work, which was to guide me, because I am blind. I’d be willing to bet money that she had no idea what that harness on Dora’s body meant.

Most of the time, the troubles I have with the uninformed public is the “no petting” rule. Petting a guide dog or otherwise distracting it from it’s job of guiding can be dangerous for the person, and could cause a serious injury. And to top it off, a lot of people think they are exempt from that rule because they love dogs or they have a dog at home. I just want to say, “Go home and pet your own dog. Mine has work to do, and you’re in her way.” Instead, I write to you, Dear Reader and hope the word gets around.

Mary Hiland

Author of

The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: a Daughter’s Memoir


Insight Out: One Blind Woman’s View of Her Life

Available at


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