An 80-year-old blind woman in the United Kingdom who has relied on guide dogs for 25 years says that she feels like she’s entered a “dark world” after Guide Dogs For the Blind took Alfie, her guide dog from her, according to a report from Spalding Today.
Shirley Waller says that Alfie was taken last June, after he swallowed a leather glove and needed surgery to have it removed, although she has spoken publicly about it only now. The organization decided that she was unable to care for Alfie properly and took him back. For the first time in 25 years, she has had to return to using a cane or having a sighted person guide her when she wants to walk through her hometown of Market Deeping, in Lincolnshire County.
There’s no way to write that story that it’s not heartbreaking. Unless the British papers have been doing a massive coverup, there’s no sign that Shirley Waller is a malicious dog abuser like so many that we’ve written about here. She has lost a companion and a valuable assistant in her everyday life. And, she has worked hard as a volunteer for Guide Dogs for the Blind. In 2012, her efforts were recognized when she was nominated to carry the Olympic torch through her town. But all that has been lost, too. Not only is Waller upset and hurt by the organization taking her dog, but the group itself has told her that because she doesn’t have a guide dog, she can no longer make public speeches about the organization’s work.
“I feel completely and utterly let down,” Waller told the local paper. “I have worked for the charity in all weathers collecting, doing talks to raise awareness of what they are like. I was so happy to do it because they had got me out of this dark world, but now they have pushed me back into it.”
Of course, the welfare of animals, whether working dogs or pets, should always be a public concern, but taking away Shirley Waller’s dog after he swallowed a glove seems questionable. Was there really no other option to guarantee Alfie’s safety? If there was a track record of problems with Shirley looking after her dog, that would be one thing. But Waller was at least a good enough dog owner that Guide Dogs for the Blind felt comfortable allowing her to represent it at charity events.
So far, nothing has been reported, and the organization hasn’t been very forthcoming with explanations of its decision.
“We care very deeply about the health and well-being of our guide dogs and, as Mrs. Waller’s dog was experiencing health issues, we made the difficult decision to retire him early,” a spokesman said. “We understand that losing her guide dog has been very tough for Mrs. Waller; guide dogs are life-changing for their owners and so to be parted from one can be difficult.”
That’s 63 words to say precisely nothing beyond courteous platitudes about the situation.
There are even other organizations willing to help come up with an acceptable solution. The chief executive of the South Lincolnshire Blind Society, Malcolm Swinburn, offered his organization’s assistance in finding a way to protect Alfie and allow Waller to keep him: “We would be quite willing to work with Guide Dogs for the Blind and Shirley to make sure that we did everything that was possible to ensure Alfie’s future safety.”
As it stands now, it’s hard to see why Waller can’t have her dog, and why some other solution couldn’t be found. We hope Guide Dogs for the Blind will be willing to open up about its reasoning and its process.
Via Spalding Today