Guide Dogs in Singapore: What You Need To Know
In March 2023, national Paralympic swimmer Sophie Soon, accompanied by her guide dog and mother, was denied entry into the cafe, Rocky Master, and was instead asked to sit outside the premises because of her dog. Soon’s mother confronted the employee about the alleged discrimination and informed the latter that the law permits guide dogs to enter all food establishments. Soon was then left to wait for another half an hour before being given three conditions to remain in the restaurant — her guide dog had to be leashed, it could not be fed, and patrons must not complain about her dog.
The incident has since sparked more interest and curiosity over the rights of guide dog owners, as well as guide dog laws in Singapore.
In this article, we will discuss:
What are Guide Dogs?
Guide dogs are specially trained service animals that provide assistance and support to individuals who are visually impaired (VI). VI individuals may have little to no vision which impacts their mobility in their daily lives. Thus, guide dogs support their owners by acting as a mobility guide, and by assessing and determining the best paths to lead their owners to their destination safely.
Aside from familiarising themselves with their owners’ most travelled routes, guide dogs are taught to recognise obstacles – from hanging objects and blocked paths, to any changes in elevation e.g., curbs or stairs. Further, as part of the extensive two-year training programme, guide dogs go through basic obedience training, temperament assessment, and matching, which sees dogs paired with potential handlers based on factors like physical build and lifestyle.
Are guide dogs different from assistance dogs?
Assistance dogs are a general term to describe any dog which has been specially trained to aid individuals with disabilities. Thus, as dogs that have been trained and equipped with the skills to help their visually impaired owners, guide dogs fall under the category of assistance dogs as well.
How Can Visually Impaired Persons in Singapore Get a Guide Dog?
There is currently no established process to acquire a guide dog in Singapore. However, the non-profit social service agency, Guide Dogs Singapore (GDS) runs a guide dog programme which matches VI individuals to their perfect guide dog match.
As guide dogs require special training, a dog must also be fully certified before attaining its status as a mobility guide. At present, there is no designated organisation which handles such certification, but GDS provides all guide dogs with the necessary training through Guide Dog Trainers and Guide Dog Mobility Instructors.
GDS then assesses the compatibility of candidates and potential guide dogs to match them together. Upon successful matching, owners and their guide dogs will undergo intensive training to get accustomed to each other. Following this, owners will be given a Guide Dog Team ID Card for identification.
Can Guide Dogs From Overseas be Brought Into Singapore?
If you are a VI individual who is looking to import your guide dog from abroad, do take note of the following requirements:
- Ensure that the breed of your guide dog is allowed in Singapore.
- Guide dogs are typically Labradors and Golden Retrievers which are permitted breeds in Singapore, but it is still advisable to verify the eligibility of your dog. This is because certain traditionally aggressive dog breeds have been banned from being imported into Singapore for safety purposes. These include Pit Bulls, Akitas, and Neapolitan Mastiffs.
- Ensure your guide dog fulfils the necessary veterinary conditions for importation.
- Singapore’s government agency, the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS), provides detailed list of the conditions needed for a dog to be imported, and advises owners to take note of them within the relevant time frames. For example, all assistance dogs are required to receive external and internal parasite treatment between 2 to 7 days of importation.
- Ensure your guide dog qualifies as an assistance dog.
- To verify the legitimacy of a guide dog, and thus, its status as an assistance dog, AVS requires the following documentation:
- Supporting documentation from an NParks/AVS-approved organisation OR medical practitioner declaring your disability and ongoing dependence on the guide dog;
- Supporting documentation confirming the training of your guide dog at a member organisation of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) or Assistance Dogs International (ADI); and
- Supporting documentation that your guide dog has been working with you for at least 6 months before the date of importation OR official documentation from a recognised assistance dog training organisation to verify that your dog has been at, or under the supervision of the organisation for at least 6 months before the date of importation.
- To verify the legitimacy of a guide dog, and thus, its status as an assistance dog, AVS requires the following documentation:
Once you have verified and ensured that your guide dog adheres to the requirements set out, do ensure that you are prepared for your trip by completing the following steps:
- Obtain an import licence.
- To import your guide dog, you will need to first apply for and obtain an import licence. You can find a step-by-step guide here.
- Obtain a veterinary health certificate.
- Make an appointment for a border control inspection.
- All assistance dogs are to undergo an inspection at Singapore’s border control offices (Changi Animal & Plant Quarantine Station, or Tuas Checkpoint) upon arrival in Singapore. Appointments can be made here.
Apart from these considerations, owners should always check and coordinate the necessary transportation arrangements with the airlines they are using. Upon arrival in Singapore, your guide dog will undergo a mandatory veterinary inspection and if all the necessary conditions are met, it will be allowed entry into the country.
For more detailed information on the importation of animals in Singapore, do refer to NPark’s guide here.
What are the Main Laws Pertaining to Guide Dogs in Singapore?
In Singapore, laws have been enacted to protect the rights and accessibility of our VI individuals and their guide dogs.
Are guide dogs permitted to reside in HDB flats?
Guide dogs are permitted to reside in HDB flats by the Housing Development Board (HDB) and AVS. The process is the same as that of any other individual who is applying to own a dog in an HDB flat, where guide dog owners simply have to apply for a dog licence from AVS.
Are guide dogs permitted in restaurants?
In Singapore, VI individuals are permitted to be accompanied by their guide dogs into any food establishment by the National Environmental Agency (NEA).
Under the Environmental Public Health Act, guide dogs are recognised as working animals and owners are not required to apply for a separate licence. Owners, however, have to ensure that their guide dog is:
- Kept under proper control;
- Held by a leash and restrained from straying, causing annoyance, nuisance or damage to any property; and
- Not be fed in the food establishment.
This extends to Halal-certified food places as well. The presence of guide dogs may pose a concern to those in the Muslim community. However, the Office of the Mufti Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has spoken up and assured Muslims that they do not need to cleanse themselves using the sertu method should they come into contact with guide dogs or walk past a guide dog.
MUIS has also encouraged Muslims to be understanding towards guide dog owners. This comes from an advisory issued in reference to the matter: “We are very much encouraged to be kind to those who need to use guide dogs to get around. Do not react in any way which may offend the owners of the guide dogs or hurt the dog itself.”
Food establishments can identify guide dogs by their harness sleeve, which often carry the taglines “Guide Dog at Work” and “Do Not Distract”. As a dog guide owner, you are also advised to carry your “Guide Dog Team Identification Card” along.
Similarly, all businesses are encouraged to identify themselves as guide dog-friendly establishments using decals provided by Guide Dogs Singapore. The decals read “Guide Dog-Friendly Business”, and are encouraged by GDS to indicate a business’ inclusive practice.
Are guide dogs permitted in public transportation?
Guide dogs are permitted on public transportation.
Though the Rapid Transit Systems Act (RTSA) states that animals are not allowed on the MRT, the RTSA also clarifies that the prohibition does not extend to guide dogs.
In the same vein, guide dogs are allowed on public buses, as long as they remain by their owner’s side at all times.
What Should Members of the Public Do If They Encounter a Guide Dog?
Guide dogs play a crucial role in the lives of VI individuals and have an important job to do. Hence, even though guide dogs are trained to concentrate and ignore distractions, it is imperative to bear the following in mind:
- Never feed a guide dog;
- Never pat a guide dog;
- Never distract a guide dog; and
- Should you be walking your pet dog, ensure that it is leashed and under control.
Additionally, VI individuals may indicate that they need help by laying the handle of their guide dog’s harness on the dog’s back. When you notice this, do approach the individual gently by tapping them on the shoulder. Avoid grabbing them, and be sure to introduce yourself. Subsequently, when providing instructions or assistance, converse with the VI individual who will then give their guide dog directions.
To learn more about proper etiquette, you may refer to these additional resources on interacting with guide dogs and their owners.
I am a Guide Dog User Who has Faced Discriminatory Treatment. What Can I Do?
Singapore is a part of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which pledges to “enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life”. Thus, our laws seek to protect the rights and interests of all persons with disabilities. However, guide dog owners may still face discriminatory treatment like in the aforementioned incident involving Sophie Soon. Some instances of discrimination and what you can do in such situations are explained below:
In food establishments
If a food establishment refuses to serve you, rest assured that it is well within your rights to patronise any public place with your guide dog, so do explain your situation to the employees, or reach out to their management for clarification and further action. Such situations will likely be addressed and resolved internally. However, in the event that you are faced with an extreme case of discrimination and are verbally or physically harassed by employees, you may want to escalate the case to the police instead.
In the workplace
As a guide dog owner, if you find yourself being treated differently or being denied opportunities as compared to your counterparts, do report it to your employers or higher-ups. Such instances of discrimination may include banning guide dogs in the office or disallowing you from attending work meetings or gatherings with your guide dog.
If the issue is not resolved, you may choose to file a complaint with the authorities, namely the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). While TADM and TAFEP offer mediation or advisory services for you to deal with your case, repeated incidents of discrimination can be escalated to MOM. In this case, MOM is armed with the right to take further action against offending employers should they fail to rectify their wrongdoings.
Our laws are in place to protect your rights as a VI individual. Should you face discrimination as a guide dog owner, do not be afraid to confront the matter with the offending party. You may also consult an employment lawyer who can advise you on the relevant actions to take.
Guide dogs play an integral role in the lives of their owners, and the rights of VI individuals must be actively protected. To uphold this, Singapore has laid out numerous laws and regulations to ensure that guide dogs and their owners possess the same rights as everyone else. For instance, the access of all VI individuals and their guide dogs to public spaces is maintained by our country’s laws.
For more information, you may refer to Guide Dogs Singapore. Aiming to facilitate the rehabilitation and integration of VI individuals through guide dogs, VI individuals may look to their page to learn more about obtaining and owning guide dogs in Singapore. Alternatively, if you are a member of the public who is looking for more information on guide dogs, such as etiquette like interacting with guide dogs, do check out GDS too.
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