From ‘Store says sorry over guide dog incident’, 30 Nov 2012, article by Melissa Lin, ST
A FACEBOOK post from a blind woman with a guide dog who recounted her treatment by staff at a Forever 21 clothing outlet went viral yesterday, prompting the American retailer to apologise. Ms Cassandra Chiu, 33, who contracted Stargardt disease when she was eight and lost her vision over time, was at the fashion chain’s Orchard Exchange outlet yesterday afternoon with her six-year-old daughter Kady, a maid and her labrador Esme.
Ms Chiu, a psychotherapist, is the second Singaporean trained to use a guide dog to help her move around.
…After picking up a pair of white pants, she headed to a changing room to try them on. But she was stopped by a female staff member, who told her that no dogs were allowed in the store, Ms Chiu told The Straits Times. She started explaining that Esme was her guide dog, and not her pet, but the staff member walked away before she could finish speaking. “I ended up talking to thin air,” Ms Chiu said.
…Finally, another staff member intervened to say that guide dogs are allowed in the store. Ms Chiu told her to “ask the staff to stop harassing me” and left the store with her purchase of pants.
…The Singapore management of Forever 21 apologised on the post, and said they would like to meet her to apologise in person. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” Ms Chiu said. “The problem is that we need to have a more inclusive society. If they want to do something, they should put a guide dog decal in their store so there won’t be questions about whether guide dogs are allowed inside.”
The president of the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind, Dr Francis Seow-Choen, said people should be more open to guide dogs and be aware of what they are. “They’re not pets. People can be reassured that the guide dogs we bring in have been certified and trained.” Meanwhile, Forever 21 has released a statement saying it has issued an apology to Ms Chiu on its own Facebook page and that of Esme The Guide Dog.
Esme the dog has her (?) own Facebook page, and it’s more entertaining than BABIES who status update about lactation time. One post recounts how Esme shocked someone while inside the toilet, something I’m not quite used to myself, though I’d rather have a dog staring at me pee than a little girl accompanied by her father. What’s surprising is that Cassandra is only the SECOND blind Singaporean with a guide dog. There could be many reasons why our government has taken so long to implement dogs to help the blind, but some of the most obvious ones are hardly ever mentioned in the article above.
In 1988, it was reported that guide dogs for the blind were barred by various government agencies, of note the Ministry of Health (hospitals and clinics), SBS (buses) with SUPPORT from the predecessor of MICA and, tellingly, the Muslim Religious Council. One can only conclude that the authorities (and certain cultures) deemed a blind man’s helper as a scary, filthy animal, even though a mutt could do more for 1 blind person in its short years of life than a rich, miserly man ever would. The first ever guide dog owner Kua Cheng Hock had to send his pal Stacey back to Australia because of public disapproval. Dogs would have been an economical alternative to enhancing our amenities with disabled-friendly infrastructure, yet we baulk at the thought for the sake of the beliefs or irrational fears of certain individuals. They have been trained not to lick, bite, bark or shit about unnecessarily, which is more than you say of some human beings. I’m not sure if they’ve been trained not to SALIVATE though.
It wasn’t until 2005, when we only had ONE guide dog (Kendra) in the entire country, that SMRT Transit decided to allow them on public transport provided that they were accompanied by station masters and dressed in a harness, just in case there were people who were ‘afraid of dogs’ or ‘culturally sensitive’. Restaurants, with blessings from NEA, followed suit in the same year. Esme in fact posted pics of herself and owner in IKEA, on a bus, in a church, in NTUC, Food Junction and surprisingly, in a cab. This dog has been to more places than the most pampered Pomeranian puppy in Singapore.
So what do Muslims do when they’re blind and walking canes are not an option? Get a miniature horse, of course. But probably not feasible in Singapore as the poor creatures are likely to be harrassed by kids (and some adults) wanting to ride them like My Little Ponies. Britain passed a groundbreaking fatwa in 2008 allowing a blind teen to walk into a MOSQUE with his guide dog. We’re unlikely to become THAT inclusive, though such acceptance of a taboo animal on holy ground so that one can pray is something to mull over.
Esme’s owner did well to let Forever 21 off with a Facebook post. In other countries, the blind would lodge complaints for discrimination if Muslim cabbies ever refuse to take them. Our PM Lee himself is a fan of ‘inclusiveness’ as well, and unless something is done to address our attitudes and foster compassion towards the blind and their four-legged companions regardless of our religious inclinations, his speeches and tweets would be, well — wait for it — all bark and no bite.