Guide Dog Activism and Allergies


An blind activist buddy of mine is on the war path. This time it’s about guide dogs on Swedish Rail:

“Three years ago I got a guide dog. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. Since then, my life has changed fundamentally. I exercise to an extent that I never thought possible. My physical condition has improved enormously and I feel much better to my soul. I used to avoid going out. Navigating a noisy city full of lamp posts and speeding cars was so demanding that I would avoid it completely for long periods. But since I got my dog, things have changed. It’s a pleasure to run around town with him at my side. A bit like regaining sight! In many ways I move as well and as freely as a seeing person. And of course it has done wonders for my self esteem.

But I’ve also come a cross a few frustrating problems. No law prohibits the discrimination of guide dog owners. Restaurant owners, shopkeepers and bath house staff can shut me out without risking legal repercussions. And I have met with discrimination, so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve filed a few complaints with the Ombudsman for the Disabled, but that’s just a symbolic act as there is no anti-discrimination law for such cases.

Now the Guide Dog Owner’s Association has set up a petition to convince Swedish Rail that people with guide dogs should be allowed to sit in any one of a train’s carriages. For several years, we have only been allowed to sit in designated pet-owner seats, which equates a guide dog with a pet.”

I replied to my friend that I kind of support his cause, but that those pet-seats on the trains are intended to protect another disabled group which is much more numerous than the guide-dog owners, viz people with fur allergies. Explained my buddy: as pet-owners and horse-riders are extremely common and wear the same clothes regardless of whether they’re bringing their pets along or not, all public spaces in Sweden are already heavily contaminated with fur. There are only about 300 guide dogs in the country (pop. 9 million), and only about 1% of the adult population reports serious allergic reactions to dog hair. All in all, it would pose no measurably increased problem for allergics if guide dogs were allowed everywhere on Swedish Rail trains. Such dogs are specifically trained to sit calmly with their owners. And the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association agrees.

My buddy’s arguments (he asked to be anonymous, since the last time I blogged about him he got mailbombed by people who wanted him to take up their causes) convinced me, and I’ve signed the petition.

The man in the picture is not my activist buddy, though he’s pretty cool-looking too. I found it at the Guide Dogs for the Blind website.

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15 thoughts on “Guide Dog Activism and Allergies

  1. Always a tricky question when two disabled groups are involved. But the argument seems sound, considering how few people are actually involved, the fact that blind people have a very serious handicap, and that someone with extreme allergy will have an easier time to exchange seats with someone else, rather than the opposite.

    I have signed the petition.


  2. I’m surprised that Swedish law isn’t more guide-dog friendly. In the UK guide dogs are specifically exempt from ‘no dogs’ rules. Over here we take the view that being blind isn’t a lifestyle choice.

    One side-effect of make life easier for guide-dog owners might be that it becomes a more popular aid for the blind. Even so I’d argue that their gain in mobility far outweighs any discomfort I might have.


  3. In the USA, service animals are allowed just about anywhere. That includes guide dogs in training by sighted people, and service animals for the deaf and others.


  4. Having fur residue on your clothes is not really the same as bringing a furry animal along as far as concentrations go. Few allergics are so sensitive that hair on people’s clothes become an issue (though such unfortunate people do exist). You also do have people with a phobic fear of dogs (not all that rare), not just allergics. I’ve been a dog owner for most of my life, so I’ve seen first hand how this can be a really serious problem, and more so with your typical working dog (Labrador, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and so on) that is very intimidating for those people.

    A reasonable compromise would be to let guide dogs (and working dogs in general) take priority for the pet car seats. The issue is after all the seat availability.

    A blanket permission and exemption is, I think, not a good idea either. Not wanting a dog near is not just a lifestyle choice or matter of opinion either, after all. A restaurant that advertises itself as allergy friendly, for instance, would be very ill served by a blind person bringing in their guide dog. If a blind person really wants to attend, they can still after all leave the dog home for the evening, and enlist a friend as guide and dinner companion (most blind people do not rely on dogs as pointed out in the comments).


  5. In Aus, guide dogs, both seeing and hearing, are allowed pretty much anywhere – public transport, shops including food shops, restaurants, schools, etc. Living in Melbourne I used to see them quite often (I grew up near one of the puppy training schools), and they are common enough that there are education days at schools, to teach kids to leave working dogs alone, and about disabilities in general.

    The dogs used here are mostly labradors, which do not seem to cause many allergy problems. I had never heard of anyone objecting to guide dogs on the grounds of allergies. Trained guide dogs do NOT go running up to people, jumping up, licking and so on, so are not a high risk to people around them. For those blind people with allergies, I have heard of poodles or lab/poodle crosses being used, although the website for the victorian guide dogs doesn’t mention them.
    This may be useful to your friend. It gives an overview of how guide dogs fit in to our society (where they have been legal and accepted for decades), how well they are trained, etc. It also mentions the laws that apply (in the education section).

    Good luck to your friend.


  6. Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and work for humans with a variety of disabilities, so a law that restricts them to “pet-owner” seats on public transportation seems unreasonable. What if a person is in a wheelchair (for example-there are service dogs that tow the chair when the human is tired, and retrieve items for the human), and can’t maneuver the chair into the “pet-owner” area?

    Horrid cynic that I am, I’m occasionally suspicious of allergy claims. I’m sure most are legitimate, and perhaps even life-threatening, but occasionally I wonder if the “allergy” is not just distaste or dislike or even attention-seeking. For example, there was an “Annotation” feature in Harper’s last year that debunked the notion that peanut allergies are common in the US. We have a veritable cult of victimhood here, though.

    I have a Labrador retriever, a “found” dog that was dumped at my friends’ ranch, and she sheds more frequently and copiously than any long-haired sheepdog that I’ve had. I had thought that she lost hair initially as a result of being treated for heartworms, but no, the shedding never abated, and the vet assures me that it’s characteristic of the breed. If I saved the hair, I could weave and felt another entire dog.


  7. Barn Owl –

    I have a brother who was allergic to just about everything, when we were kids (he still has a lot of allergies, but many have gotten much better since childhood, as they often do). Coupled with severe asthma, an allergic reaction to pet hair, could become a life threatening problem. On more than one occasion, he ended up in the ER due to allergic reactions that set off asthma attacks. This usually occurred towards the end of his allergy shot cycles, when the protection afforded from the last one was wearing off.

    That said, I know a few people who have pretty strong allergies for pet hair, who also use public trans. Here in Portland, Oregon, not only are service animals allowed anywhere on trains, so are pets. Those who are allergic to pet hair and use public trans, are aware and take something for it before venturing forth where they might be exposed to their respective allergens. There are medications to help those with even the most severe allergies, so I really don’t see this as much of an excuse.


  8. Hi there! I noticed that you’ve decided to use one of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s images to illustrate this great post on your blog. That’s fantastic (however, next time, please consider asking permission – we’d be happy to give it to you)- but I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving us a photo credit (“Photo courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind,, and perhaps even a link back to our website where your readers canfind more information. Thanks much – keep up the great blog!


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