DEAR ABBY: I am a retired psychiatrist who became blind as a result of a gunshot wound during a burglary in my home. Since that time I have relied on my guide dog, Alder, to maintain my independence. I was very pleased to see the letter in your column from Carl Augusto of the American Foundation for the Blind, which gave people tips on what sighted people should do when they meet a blind person. I'd like to add a few points that weren't covered, specifically about what people should and should not do when meeting a blind person with a guide dog.
Alder is a friendly 3-year-old black lab, and people's first inclination is to pet him. However, when guide dogs are working, they are responsible for the safety of their masters. Petting, distracting, or worse, feeding guide dogs while they are working can be very dangerous. A distracted dog may lead its master into a harmful situation. Also, if you see a blind person with a guide dog whom you suspect may need assistance, please ask that person first. He or she can tell you how to safely provide help without interfering with the dog.
Abby, thank you for giving me this opportunity to let people know about a subject that is so important to those of us who rely on our guide dogs. -- JOHN PHELAN, M.D., WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CALIF.
DEAR DR. PHELAN: I'm passing along the message. A person walking with a guide dog should not be mistaken for someone taking a stroll with a pet. The animal is working and should not be petted.
It's fine to comment that the dog is beautiful, dutiful or well-trained. But anything beyond that could be seriously distracting.