A bus driver denied access to a Wellington man's guide dog earlier this week because it was a poodle, rather than the expected labrador.
George Taggart and his guide dog Guss attempted to board a bus outside the Blind Low Vision NZ (formerly the Blind Foundation) offices in Wellington when the driver said his poodle wasn't allowed on. This is despite Taggart showing his guide dog passport.
Blind Low Vision NZ chief executive John Mulka said Taggart's experience with Guss shows the need for continued awareness and understanding for blind, deafblind, and low vision New Zealanders.
"While it might be unusual for the public to see a poodle as a guide dog, when George showed his ID card it should have cleared up the confusion. Guide dogs are of course permitted to travel on public transport and are welcome in public places including restaurants, offices, clinics, hospitals, shops, cinemas and hotels," he said.
Guss is a standard poodle, and this breed is often suitable for handlers or members of their family who may be allergic to dog hair.
"The majority of Blind Low Vision NZ guide dogs are labradors. However, at New Zealand's only guide dog breeding and training centre, we also breed a small number of standard poodles suitable for handlers, or members of their family, who may be allergic to dog hair. Blind Low Vision NZ guide dog breeds are chosen for their intelligence and steady, friendly nature," Mulka said.
He added Blind Low Vision NZ works with public and private transport companies to train and educate staff on how to best serve blind, deafblind and low vision travellers, customers and staff.
"It's important we use these opportunities to raise awareness about the access rights of people who use guide dogs, to travel independently and confidently, and to get where they need to go. This highlights accessibility issues for all - whether for work, study or better social outcomes," he said.
Taggart told Stuff it is the second time in two weeks a bus driver has stopped Guss from coming on board.
"I'm kind of fed up with it, it's quite embarrassing," he said.
Scott Gallacher, Metlink general manager, apologised to Taggart for his experience.
"We're disappointed to hear of Mr Taggart's experience and apologise unreservedly for what happened. We welcome all members of the public on our trains and buses, whether able-bodied or otherwise, and try hard to accommodate their needs and ensure they have confidence in using Metlink's services," he told Stuff.
He said there hadn't been many complaints about bus drivers rejecting guide dogs, which shows staff follow the rules and training on seeing-eye dogs. But he acknowledged that sometimes things "can go wrong".
"We will follow this up with the driver to find out why that was the case and ask our operators to reinforce the rules around guide dogs with drivers during regular training."
Newshub has contacted Metlink for comment.