Service dogs work hard everyday to make life more accessible for their owners with disabilities, but we rarely see the nitty-gritty of these animals’ daily lives, or the small, daily struggles that their owners face navigating city life. In London, a blind man strapped a GoPro to his guide dog. The resulting footage gives a dog’s-eye-view into the daily challenges of living in a large city with a disability.
Former doctor Amit Patel lost his sight suddenly in 2012 due to a condition in which the cornea changes shape, known as “keratoconus.” Now 37, Patel gets around busy London with the help of his guide dog, Kika. He told BBC News that he and his wife, Seema, decided to attach a GoPro camera to Kika’s harness when they became concerned that Kika was dealing with inconsiderate, and sometimes cruel, people on the street. “The video came out of necessity,” he explained. “Kika was getting hit by peoples' bags and she was getting a lot of abuse. A woman stopped me one day and had a go at me for holding everyone up and said I should apologize, which was a real shock.” The camera was particularly important because Patel couldn’t see the abuse himself. “It was only when other commuters would tell me ‘Someone just kicked your dog,’ that I would realize what was actually happening,” he told CBS News. Now Patel’s wife, Seema, reviews Kika’s footage when Patel gets home.
The footage from Kika’s GoPro is, by turns, fascinating and upsetting. It shows just how hard Kika works as she guides Patel through London’s complex transit system, but it also reveals that — though most people are nice — some strangers go out of their way to make her job harder. Patel told Mashable,
People distract her (Kika), get in the way, try to be funny or bump her. Some parents don't care and have their children screaming at the dog or petting it — so I have to kindly tell them she's working and ask if they can wait until we get on the train.
The GoPro footage has also revealed, not only the challenges of being a service dog, but also the insensitivity that Patel sometimes faces as a blind person. For example, in September, there was a disruption of the London rail service. Footage from Kika’s camera shows transportation staff standing close to Kika and Patel and yet not coming to his aid for a long period of time. Patel told the BBC,
I asked for help and no one came. The video shows lots of staff standing around me and this one guy looking over many times. Eventually when the staff member actually came to me the first thing he said was ‘sorry I didn't see you’ and that really bugged me. He wouldn't say that to someone who wasn't visually impaired.
(You can see footage from the incident in the tweet below).
Although he and Kika have had some negative experiences, Patel made clear to Mashable that many people he encounters while traveling are helpful and kind. “Once I got off at the wrong station and Kika got lost,” he recalled. “A guy saw me from the distance and walked over to me, touched me on the shoulder and asked if I needed help. He took me all the way to the right one.” He’s also clearly proud of Kika and the work she does. “She’s half of who I am,” Pateltold CBS. “It’s like having your best friend all the time, just without her talking back to you. She’s amazing.”
Patel and Seema started a Twitter account for Kika to raise awareness of the needs of service dogs in public spaces. The account recently linked to a series of tips from GuideDogs.org.uk as to how people should act around guide dogs. The advice boils down to two simple rules: “Do not distract, touch, feed, or instruct a guide dog when it’s working” and “If you think a blind or partially sighted person needs help, ask.” (You can find the full list of guidelines for interacting with guide dogs and their owners here.)