By Elesha George
A couple travelling from the United Kingdom has prompted talks of establishing legislation for access to guide dogs and the incorporation of service dogs in Antigua and Barbuda.
Service dogs are a type of assistance dogs that are used for people who have disabilities, and which help them become more mobile and independent.
Something David Adams said he is thankful for.
Adams, the current President of the European Guide Dog Federation (EGDF) and his wife Judith have extensive knowledge on the technicalities of owning a guide dog, after having collectively worked with persons with disabilities for decades.
David has been President of the EGDF for the past nine years and is also a trustee of Warwickshire Association for the Blind, which provides services to the 20,000 blind and partial sighted in the county.
His wife Judith, who recently retired after serving for seven years as the Executive Director of the European Guide Dog Federation told Observer that it took a bit of work to get their service dog Jimbo into the country.
“I must say it was quite an ordeal to get the dog here. Before Brexit we could travel around Europe. The dog just had a passport like everyone else and that was it. We thought right at the last minute that Jimbo wasn’t able to come and that was a downer … I have been absolutely amazed and so pleased at the reception that we’ve had and the awareness that exists here in Antigua.
“One time we walked into a restaurant and they didn’t even blink when they saw the dog, they just ushered us to the table. So, when we were seated, we said, ‘You didn’t even mention the dog’. They said oh well, I’ve seen about that on TV and I knew exactly what kind of dog it was and what it was doing. So, we’ve enjoyed that kind of welcome.”
However, Antigua and Barbuda still has a long way to go if it is to incorporate guide dogs into its society.
“As I walk around with Jimbo there are areas where you think ‘oh, this could be easier.’ The pavements or sidewalks could be flatter or smoother and the surprises that you get with potholes and drainage,” David said.
He explained, “You’d need a structure and organisation even if you flew some trained guide dogs in and it’s not magic; it has to learn its way around and usually they learn well known routes.
“The better the infrastructure, the better it is for the dog. They’re trained to follow lines.”
Ronald Greenaway, a Supervisor at the Disability Centre operating under the Ministry of Social Transformation, was the one who assisted the couple with getting Jimbo into Antigua at the last minute.
Greenaway said that he will use the expertise of the couple to help build legislation and policies that will enable the use of guide dogs in the twin-island state one day.
Greenaway told Observer that in order to implement the use of guide dogs, the government would first have to sensitise and educate the public.
“There has to be a period of awareness; the understanding of what these dogs really do. They’re not artificial, they’re not toy dogs.”
“In the process of awareness, we have to look at adjustments – mental, physical, structural arrangements in every possible way.”
He said this may include adding bike lanes – and that is no easy feat.
Before leaving the island today, the couple met with the Minister of Tourism, the Director of Planning and Policy in the Ministry of Tourism, Chief Veterinarian Dr Radcliffe Robins and even gave a demonstration at the Government House to disabled children on how to use a guide dog.