TALK TO THE HAND-LER: Matt Bryant with Bronco encouragespeople to engage with the handler of a guide dog, and not the dog, if you encounter them when out. Photo: Phil BlatchWhen Matt Bryant was only 17 years old, he woke up one day to discover that he had lost all the vision in his right eye.
Matt developed a rare condition called Leber’s hereditary neuropathy and gradually his left eye deteriorated to the point where he is now, that is with only 1 per cent peripheral vision remaining.
In 2012 his life, and that of his family, improved immensely when he received his guide dog Bronco, named after his favourite rugby league team.
“He changed our life dramatically,” he said. “It meant that I could go for a walk without my wife and she didn’t have to worry about me getting run over.”
Mr Bryant said that he can now regularly get on the bus and head into the shops or to 107.5 FM, where he is one of the station’s presenters and also the president.
Those trips though are not always plain sailing and he said that despite people’s best intentions, they often distract Bronco from his core duty of keeping Mr Bryant safe.
“It doesn’t matter how much people know that they’re not meant to interact with him, they do,” he said.
In coffee shops, supermarkets or a lone walk down the street, Mr Bryant said that on at least 50 per cent of the trips, people distract Bronco in some way. And more often than not, it’s adults doing the distracting.
“I was in a coffee shop recently and I was holding Bronco in the same hand as my coffee. A customer nearby began to pat him and of course being a dog he reacted to the attention and I spilt my coffee all over myself,” he said. “He’s not a super dog, he’s a guide dog.”
To coincide with International Guide Dog Day on Wednesday, April 27, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT will launch a public education campaign, Respect My Uniform, calling on the community to resist patting or distracting working guide dogs.
A recent survey found 89 per cent of guide dog handlers reported their guide dog had been distracted by members of the public in the past 12 months and the campaign seeks to remind the public that even a well-intentioned pat can create considerable risk, cause anxiety and even serious injury for guide dogs and their handlers.
The campaign, Mr Bryant says, is a timely reminder for people to understand the role that guide dogs play, and how to interact with their handlers.
“I completely understand that people admire the dogs, but the best thing to do is to engage with the handler, not the dog.
“I’ll speak to anyone, but please ignore Bronco.”
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