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Can Guide Dogs Social-Distance

May 28, 2020

Guide dog Leo, a 2-year-old black Lab, helps his visually impaired owner, Samantha Ambrico-Custer, get around and navigate daily life.

He performs extraordinary tasks for her every day. But one thing Leo and other guide dogs can’t do: judge 6 feet between other humans.

Amid the pandemic, owners say their guide dogs have had trouble finding the end of a spaced-out line of people at stores, and obviously, they don’t understand the meaning of designated arrows on the floor.

“They are not trained to stand 6 feet apart from people and cross the street if someone is coming at me,” Ambrico-Custer said. “The situations I’ve been running into since the pandemic kind of set in are more related to people kind of getting frustrated that I can’t see. … My dog knows to avoid the person, but doesn’t know how to stay 6 feet apart.”

Ambrico-Custer is asking the public to be patient and understanding to the blind and visually impaired and their guide dogs.

“You can just say, ‘Hey, you’re coming at me and we are not 6 feet apart,’ or really anything to that matter, just to let me know that you are there and I’m not going the right way,” the Havertown resident advised. “I would prefer you letting me know than me continue on and continuously walk toward people when I should be going in the opposite direction.”

She said speaking up is the best way to keep everyone safe. However, never grab onto the person without asking if they need help, and don’t pet, feed or distract the animal in any way.

“Especially in this (COVID-19) situation,” Ambrico-Custer added, “where I don’t know where your hands have been and you don’t know where my dog has been. I think it is just really important to remember that if you see a service dog, they are working and they shouldn’t be distracted in any way, but specifically, don’t touch them.”

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