Add a little Samba to the words "que lindo, que lindo" and you
embody the Brazilian experience with a Seeing Eye
dog. This means
"how beautiful" in Spanish and Portuguese and this is what I
heard from almost everyone I past or encountered during my 5 day
visit to Sao Paulo Brazil for the International Conference on
Education of the Visually Impaired. The public reaction and that
of the conference attendees was nothing short of phenomenal!
There was over 650 mostly teachers attending this conference, (59
countries) a large percentage being from Brazil and South
America. Few had ever met a dog guide and its owner even though
they work in the blindness field. Based on their astonishment
and gasps as I wound my way through crowded streets and packed
reception halls, they were unaccustomed to seeing a blind person
walk quickly and independently. For that matter, there were few
if any cane users walking by themselves.
In the exhibit hall and at the large receptions which had 500 to
1000 people in attendance, I could not stop without being
surrounded within seconds by blind and sighted people who wanted
to know about the dog. It was the volume of people and having to
give explanations in Spanish which made this experience an order
of magnitude greater than anything I have ever experienced. The
blind people wanted to see the dog, the harness and to feel how
he worked. Their Brazilian exuberance added even more color to
The blind teachers wanted to not only feel the dog and harness
but sometimes to experience walking with the dog. Josh has now
been exposed to various forms of simulation. the person holding
my arm, the person walking on the opposite side of Josh at the
same time as me and me walking backwards holding the leash while
they held the harness. There were so many people around that I
had no fear of crashing into anything and we only walked a few
paces but it gave them the idea. Oh yes, and then there was the
It is difficult to communicate how struck these people were by
what a dog guide can do. One example might be when a blind
professor, Paulo, and his sighted girlfriend asked about the dog.
After explaining at length about how the dog works on the
streets, in crowds, etc., I had Paulo take my arm, explaining
that Josh would lead us toward the stairs to demonstrate what he could do. As we approached the steps at a fast pace, Paulo's
girlfriend started to grab us but she was a pace to far behind to
reach us. As Josh halted and we stopped abruptly at the top of the staircase,
she broke into tears - actually seeing Josh in action.
I could talk to a group, explaining how the dog worked and it
would seem that they understood. However, it wasn't until I took
my leave and worked Josh through the crowds that they really got
the picture. Until then, I think they saw the dog as some kind
of fancy ornament or cuddly companion. And you know, I walked
with pride and amazement too for the blessing of being able to
have such independence made even more significant in contrast to
the thousands of blind people around the world who don't have
access to a dog guide, a job and the freedom of movement.
The more challenging component of my Seeing Eye ambassadorial
duties came with every restaurant, taxi and hotel I attempted to
enter in Sao Paulo. In the face of a city of 15 million people
and some 5000 restaurants, it was nothing less than daunting
especially because I was on business and not pleasure. My first
responsibility was to my business clients and it could definitely
disrupt an evening to have a battle over the dog not to mention
having to find an alternate restaurant in a city where walking
the streets to find a restaurant aimlessly is not recommended for
After a short discussion, we were accepted at our hotel which I
had not informed before arriving knowing that because of the
language barrier that I would likely be rejected. I wasn't so
fortunate at their classy hotel restaurant. I was told by the
Maitre De that I was welcome to eat at the "other" restaurant
down stairs. As it turned out, the menu downstairs was the same
and the prices were less but it was the idea of being sent to the
back of the bus which is so hard to take. It did shake my
confidence in my strategy of persistence, patience, politeness
A bit querulous, the next evening, I called to make reservations
at a restaurant which had been highly recommended for a business
dinner. The Brazilian proprietor was unconvinced after I
struggled over the phone to give my best pitch in Spanish for
bringing Josh into his restaurant. After some initial
frustration, I called a Brazilian guy who is heading the effort
to start a dog guide school in Brazil. I thought it would be
useful for him to get a dose of what blind users will be up
against in his country. He had given me his home and cell
numbers to call if I "needed anything." I asked him to call the
restaurant proprietor to explain in Portuguese about the dog.
There are no laws in Brazil about dog guides and no one I met
knew of a dog guide owner in this vast country of 100 million
I must say, I cheered after receiving a call back from my new
Brazilian friend with the news that there would be no problem.
He convinced the proprietor that the dog guide was okay. One
down, 4999 restaurants to go.
The next evening, I did not call ahead but instead arrived with 8
Brazilian guests at a restaurant some of them frequent customers,
ironically called the Laughing Cat. I think the proprietor
finally let us in because we were clogging the entry. He
literally moved a wall to give us access to a table in the front.
He did not want me walking past the other tables with the dog.
After a pleasant uneventful meal, I was considering how I should
make my way to the rest room.
I really didn't feel like waiting until I got back to the hotel.
It became obvious what direction the rest rooms were in after my
guests took their turns walking to the facilities at the back of
the restaurant and past many crowded tables.
The restaurant staff had forgotten Josh was there until I pushed
back my chair and he quickly guided me through the tables and
into the rest rooms at the rear. When I returned to the table,
the Brazilians were all chattering and the Portuguese word for
dog, Cachorro, was prevalent. (pronounced Cashoho) The staff did
not have time to stop me but they complained to my colleagues.
"Wait, how will he find the rest room? How will he find the
toilet? How will he find his way back?" Within a matter of
minutes, there questions were moot and my colleagues, half of
whom were blind Brazilians, were thrilled by the example I set.
Hale to independent travel.
Now for the coup de gras. I had been at the hotel for 5 days and
the staff was extremely friendly and solicitous. When the
downstairs restaurant was closed for renovation I calmly walked
into the fancy upstairs restaurant for breakfast where I had been
rejected merely 5 days before and I received nothing but
excellent service. This was the one restaurant to which I had
been denied access to before. The 4 Ps paid off, especially the
Performance, the example we set via our various comings and
goings while staying at the hotel.
I decided to take advantage of my new found Seeing Eye dog
converts at my hotel by asking them not only to make dinner
reservations for me on my last night but to explain about the dog
to boot to the restaurant. This strategy worked, we had our best
meal of the week, I signed the largest client ever and prepared
to leave Brazil for Chile batting a thousand. Five down, 4,995
restaurants to go.
A footnote about the taxis. By and large they were very good
about accepting the dog, probably no worse than in the states; I
just couldn't force the issue if they refused without the laws to
back me up. The drivers I rode with were extremely helpful in
making sure I found my final destination even to the point once
of staying with me for nearly a half an hour at a convention
center in search of a meeting.
Upon arriving in my next destination in Chile at an international
, I was a bit perturbed when I was told that the
hotel policy did not permit pets. I had run out of patience. I
thought that just maybe at an international hotel I wouldn't have
to do the dance yet again.
I gave all the standard explanations and the Chief of Reception
said he would speak with the General Manager. I am not sure if
he actually did but he returned to tell me it would be impossible
to accommodate me with the dog. "You mean to tell me that the
Sonesta intends to discriminate against me and inconvenience me
by having to move to another hotel? I would like to speak to the
General Manager myself."
It turns out that although there is not a dog guide rule in Chile
that a human rights law had been passed just 2 months ago so the
General Manager was a bit sensitive to the word "discrimination."
I guess they realized I was not going to leave without a fuss.
By the time the General Manager appeared, they had changed their
tune radically. As it turned out, I received not only admittance
to the hotel but VIP treatment for my next weeks stay.
The bottom line is that persistence, politeness, patience and
performance pays off whether in countries which have the benefit
of dog guide laws and especially in those which do not. Common
human dignity dictates that blind people trying to travel
independently with their dog guides should receive professional
customer service not resistance every step of the way.
These episodes continued throughout my stay in Chile although it
was somewhat easier being in a place where I could communicate
better. It sure makes me appreciate the public awareness of dog
guides in the United States as well as the laws which back us up.
Nonetheless, I would like to see blind people in places like
Brazil and Chile have the option of a dog guide and the
opportunity to travel independently and without resistance.
There has to be a more effective way to create public awareness
than me eating my way through the continent.