From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (22nd December 2015).

I know many of you have followed the progress of our little dog’s (Alfie) burgeoning TV career with interest on Facebook over the past year. He has certainly been a very busy boy, travelling up and down the country, meeting sporting stars and personalities and fronting the latest Vitality advertising campaign.

One evening we received a frantic call from the producer; could Alfie travel up to London for some filming? Due to the short notice, Marc couldn’t arrange time off work and I was up to my neck in young goslings, ducklings and chicks and couldn’t possibly leave the smallholding at such a critical time.

There was only one thing for it – turn to our friends in the show dog community and ask if anyone would be willing to be Alfie’s chaperone for the day!

It was a big ask – especially at such short notice – but someone bravely stepped into the breach. Neil Hood (known to many showgoers) saved the day and kindly offered his services.

So, after work in Exeter, Marc raced Alfie from our home outside Barnstaple over to Neil’s in Portsmouth. From there Neil would take the train to Croydon the following morning where he would then need to take a taxi to the Kent County Cricket Club in Beckenham for filming. Easy enough one would assume.

Ring around

On the way to Portsmouth, Marc rang a Croydon taxi company; “I’m looking to book a taxi tomorrow morning. Are you okay to take a dog? He’s only small… and he’s very well behaved.”

“Erm… well… erm, well, the thing is we don’t have anyone available tomorrow morning at that time…”

“Okay, no worries, I’ll try somewhere else… thank you.”

But again and again came the same response, “no cars or drivers available.”

He phoned 20 taxi firms (not an exaggeration) and not one would take a dog. When pressed they said it was just ‘company policy’ but one helpful lady said she would do her very best to find someone but couldn’t guarantee a driver as “most taxi drivers at the company were Asian and they wouldn’t take a dog in their car.”

In the end we were forced (at added expense) to book a Black Cab from the centre of London and Neil and Alfie got to and from filming successfully.

I thought no more about the experience until I read a piece in this week’s Daily Mail. It showed some footage of a blind woman, Annie Giles-Quinn, from Colyhurst, Manchester, who had been enjoying a night out with her friend. She asked the pub landlord to call her a taxi to take her home. However when the driver arrived outside the pub, he refused to let Ms Giles-Quinn get into his car because she was with her guide dog, Mr Quinn. 

Video footage shot by the 61 year old grandmother, shows the landlord arguing with driver outside the pub, as Ms Giles-Quinn asks him to wind his window to talk to her. However the taxi driver can be seen suddenly reversing down the road before driving away, almost running over her feet.

Ms Giles-Quinn, who lost her sight while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer more than a decade ago eventually made it home when she was given a lift by a barman.

“You just hope and pray it won’t keep on happening,” said Ms Giles-Quinn. “It’s not just me it is happening to; it is happening all over the country.”

In this particular instance we do not yet know if the driver’s refusal to allow the dog into his car was on religious grounds but this is a growing problem and one that urgently needs to be addressed. There are numerous cases on file of similar experiences (going back several years) involving clear discrimination of blind passengers and their guide dogs. In 2006, Muslim minicab driver, Abdul Rasheed Makjekodumni, was fined £200 and ordered to pay £1,200 costs by magistrates in Marylebone when he refused to take a blind passenger because her guide dog was ‘unclean’.

‘Unclean’

Back in 2010, blind passengers reported being ordered off buses or refused taxi rides because Muslim drivers or passengers objected to their ‘unclean’ guide dogs. In fact the problem had become so widespread that the matter was raised in the House of Lords by the then transport minister, Norman Baker, who warned that a religious objection was not reason enough to eject a passenger with a well-behaved guide dog. While drivers can use their discretion to refuse to carry non-disabled passengers with dogs (and there are plenty of non-Muslim taxi drivers that don’t want dog hair/saliva or muddy paws on their car upholstery) they are compelled to accept guide dogs under disability discrimination law.

The tension stems from a strand of Islamic teaching which warns against the contact with dogs because the animal’s saliva is considered to be ‘impure.’

However, the Muslim Council of Britain urged Muslims to show tolerance and common sense over the issue.

A spokesman said, “We need to be flexible on this. Muslim drivers should have no hesitation in allowing a guide dog into their car or bus. If a dog licks you it is not the end of the world, just go home and wash yourself.”

And (it was reported in the Manchester Evening News, Jan 2013) even the Shariah Council has lifted its ban on guide dogs used by the disabled. Under the headline, ‘Guide dogs not Haram (forbidden)’ it has ruled that guide dogs can accompany disabled people into restaurants or taxis managed or driven by Muslims. The council has also decided that disabled Muslims can use guide dogs (remember in Islam dogs are considered unclean animals and Muslims are not encouraged to keep them as pets and certainly not in their houses) because such highly trained animals are essential to the independence of a disabled person.  

Yet, despite this ruling, (and a profusion of big names speaking out on the behaviour of certain cab drivers) discrimination against the blind is still occurring on an all too regular basis and it simply has to stop. If cab firms were refusing to carry black or gay people this country would be up in arms (and quite rightly so). Yet again and again, blind people are being left in vulnerable situations simply because they have a guide dog. Sure, there is a furore when one of these stories pop up (on a now all too regular basis) but then it dies down and nothing changes. Will it take a blind person to lose their life before something is done to tackle this growing problem? Our experience of trying to book a cab was a mere inconvenience (although how London dog owners who do not own a car would get to their vets in an emergency doesn’t bear thinking about) but for those who depend on their canine guide it’s a vital lifeline. Taxi drivers are necessary for transportation and they should service the needs of our community… the whole community. If drivers are unable to do that in a manner that is fair and reasonable then maybe they should be searching for a profession where their religious sensitivities will not be compromised.

Blindness doesn’t discriminate; it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of religion, race, creed, age or sex.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have contacted me with messages and emails over the past year. I wish all Dog World readers and their dogs a peaceful Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2016.

Read more on Dog World’s website http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/150480/

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