By Steven McMenemy
A partially sighted man has told of the abuse he has encountered while out walking with his guide dog.
Jonathan Attenborough, of Fife, has been paired with Sam for around 18 months and says the labrador changed his life for the better.
However, he never imagined having his companion would make him a target too.
Mr Attenborough told STV News how he has become victim of abuse from animal rights campaigners and one recent incident when he was verbally attacked by a woman in a bar really stood out.
He said: “Me and my friend were sitting there minding our own business and she was actually quite aggressive claiming we were cruel for being guide dog owners.
“These dogs, she said, shouldn’t be there lying on the floor of a bar, they should be out there playing in the fields, this was at 1am.
“She was right up in our faces really screaming and we feared it would have escalated further if her husband hadn’t ushered her away.”
Mr Attenborough said the encounter wasn’t the first time he had faced abuse when with Sam but admitted it was the most aggressive reaction so far.
He added: “These dogs are probably the most well-looked after dogs you can imagine, their nutrition is top-notch, they got top-notch medical care, they get check-ups all the time so for me that’s a non argument.
“Sam is like my best buddy, we go everywhere together, he’s never left on his own, and he’s with me 24/7 so for me I can’t understand where these campaigners are coming from.”
Robert Meikle, of Glasgow, who has had a guide dog for around a year, said he has also faced a hostile reception.
He said: “I’ve been approached and asked why I think it’s moral for me to have a guide dog, and to be honest I think it’s completely inappropriate for anyone to feel that’s acceptable to approach people who maybe are disabled and own a guide dog, or any service animal really.
“She’s opened up gateways that I could never have imagined she would have, there’s so much I rely on Winnie for, she’s improved my confidence significantly, and to be honest I have to say, with guide dogs and with Winnie particularly I don’t think I would be here without them.”
Some animal rights campaigners argue breeding dogs for service rather than training ones abandoned in shelters is wrong, and that the dogs don’t give consent to be service dogs.
However, those working for Guide Dogs Scotland said the care and welfare of the dogs is a prime concern at all times.
Tony Harvey from Guide Dogs Scotland said: “We use positive reinforcement training with our dogs, and that includes how we breed them, how we train them and how we do every aspect of it.
“We use a clicker to mark the behaviours we want them to do, so the click basically means you’re going to get a bit of food in a minute, so we use food and praise and toys to train them, so it should mean they really enjoy the work they are actually doing.
“We call it work, the human term, but really they enjoy what they do, it’s like a trick for them.”