Victoria woman tired of having to prove she is blind

Georgia Pike is constantly asked for ID when she’s out with her service dog

A Victoria woman is tired of being reminded that she lives with a disability.

Georgia Pike and her seeing eye dog, a black Labrador retriever named Grainger, are frequently asked for identification and papers to prove that Grainger is a ‘real service dog.’

Pike, a fourth year psychology student at the University of Victoria, said she’s asked for ID at least once every time she leaves campus, and is sometimes carded two to three times per trip.

“It’s really upsetting. It’s demoralizing. It’s reminding me constantly that I am a person with a disability and that I have to prove it to someone in order to go grocery shopping or go to the mall or go to the rec centre,” Pike said. “Some people say, ‘oh it’s just like showing ID when you go to a bar.’ But it’s not, because everybody has to show ID [at a bar].”

Pike lost her vision suddenly in 2014 after experiencing a stroke. She knew right away that she wanted a service dog, but first had to learn how to get around independently with only a cane.

Eight months later, Pike got Grainger from the Seeing Eye, a New Jersey-based philanthropic service dog organization.

Grainger had gone through four months of guide dog training, and spent another three and half weeks training with Pike.

“A service dog is trained to do something. And is well trained to do that thing,” Pike explained. “When I’m working with Grainger, I’m always talking to him and telling him directions because he listens to me… he’s always focused, so he’s not sniffing, he’s not licking, he’s not barking, he’s very calm. I give him hand signals.”

But Pike said there is a widespread lack of knowledge around what a real service dog looks and acts like. She says education is vital if society is going to stop treating people with service animals differently.

“What it comes down to is, a dog is not bothering anyone, is clearly doing a task. and that is the easiest way to spot a service dog.”

RELATED: Vancouver Island service dogs helping veterans deal with PTSD

RELATED: Curbs buried in snow create problems for Victoria’s vision-impaired

While B.C. provides certificates certifying guide dogs, Pike said asking for ID or papers has almost no purpose, since there is no one standard in service animal IDs – and the documents could be easily replicated.

“There’s absolutely no trust and nobody knows what they’re looking for,” she said. “I could hand them anything and they would be OK with it. I could hand them a fake doctor’s note, I could hand them a fake ID, I could hand them anything.”

He’s a hard worker, but Grainger is also a pretty adventurous pup. He and handler Georgia Pike go nearly everywhere together, including Joshua Tree National Park. (Facebook/ Grainger the Seeing Eye Dog)

A shift in law surrounding service dogs in B.C. could be partially to blame, Pike said.

In 2015, B.C.’s Guide Dog and Service Dog Act was revised to include a clause about false representation, kick-starting a narrative of ‘cracking down’ on fake service dogs.

And Pike said attitudes have shifted – to the point where she was asked for ID four times at the ferry terminal in Vancouver before she had even boarded.

“People look at Grainger and say, ‘did you get that harness online?’” she said. “People who are doing those things, don’t realize what a negative impact they’re having on people who actually have trained service dogs.

“This is why we’re getting carded, this is why people are seeking us out and disrupting our days. Initially, blind people have always been fighting for the right to get their dog in a place… now you have to prove that you have the right to be here.”

RELATED: Cental Saanich veteran finds calling as a service dog trainer

RELATED: Victoria installation for the blind causes problems for those with mobility issues



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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