I have been a guide dog owner for over 20 years and a dog lover for much longer. This blog contains (among other ramblings)! My thoughts on guide dogs and being a guide dog owner (see http://kevin-morris.co.uk/category/guide-dogs/).
I can recollect reading, several years ago about a blind Muslim lady who’s parents would not agree to her applying for a guide dog on the grounds that their religion teaches that dogs are unclean. However her family were happy for their daughter to train with a miniature guide horse. Ever since coming across that story I have retained an interest in guide animals in general and I thought that the issue of miniature guide horses would be an interesting topic to address here.
In the United States a dedicated charity, the Guide Horse Foundation offers miniature guide horses to visually impaired people who do not (or can not) for a variety of reasons become a guide dog owner. The Foundation’s website sets out a number of reasons as regards the advantages of becoming a guide horse owner. Among these are the following:
1. People who exhibit severe allergic reactions to dogs do not exhibit the same reaction to horses. Consequently a guide horse, rather than a dog may be the only (or best) option for them.
2. Horses are natural guide animals. When a horse goes blind the others, in the herd will guide it. This guiding instinct can readily be adapted for the benefit of visually impaired persons.
3. Unlike dogs horses do not require human attention. They can stand patiently for long periods without the need for human interaction.
4. Horses can remain calm in stressful situations, for example cavalry horses during battle and police horses during the course of their duties. This calm demeanour makes horses well suited for the role of guiding visually impaired people.
5. Horses live much longer than dogs (on average a horse lives some 20-30 years but some have been known to live for upto 50 years). In contrast dogs have a much shorter life span which leads to grief on the part of their owners which is not experienced (as frequently) as regards horses.
6. Horses are more readily accepted than dogs in some situations as they are perceived as guiding animals while dogs are seen as pets.
I am no expert on equine behaviour so have no way of commenting intelligibly on whether horses do, in fact guide other members of the herd in the event that one or more of their number goes blind. I would, however make the following observations.
The fact that all my guide dogs have saught human interaction is one of the many reasons why I and many other people love dogs so much. It is the fact that a dog approaches you wagging it’s tail or puts it’s head on your knee which melts your heart.
As regards allergic reactions, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (in the UK) has bred a number of labradoodles (Labradors crossed with poodles) to reduce the amount of dog hair shed and the consequent allergic reaction by the owner.
I am sure that horses do indeed remain calm in stressful situations. However I’ve also found that well trained guide dogs can remain remarkably calm in similar circumstances.
I am sceptical about the claim that miniature horses are more readily accepted than our guide dogs. Where is the evidence for this?
The Guide Horse Foundation does valuable work in offering an alternative to guide dogs (or, as they are refered to in the United States Seeing Eye Dogs). It is, I think (if you will pardon the pun) a case of horses for courses, guide dogs suit many blind people while other visually impaired individuals are better suited to working with miniature guide horses.
For information on the Guide Horse Foundation please visit their website at http://www.guidehorse.org/.