SINGAPORE - A family of American tourists visiting Singapore with a guide dog for their blind son were told by security guards at several malls and attractions that the animal was not allowed on the premises.
However when they made further checks with the management they were informed that Donner, a black labrador, was indeed allowed and that the guards had been unaware of protocol and mistook the animal as a pet.
Similar problems caused by a lack of top-down communication are a problem for guide dog handlers here, said Dr Francis Seow-Choen, chairman of the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind.
Though they are common in the West, there are currently only three guide dogs in Singapore.
The association is hoping to bring in at least one per year, he said, but while more places are beginning to accept them, service staff such as security guards may not be kept in the loop.
Kansas resident Neal Kurtz, 63, his wife Janis, 60, and their 22-year-old son Daniel were in Singapore from June 1 to 13.
The younger Mr Kurtz was born prematurely without sight in his left eye. When he was 20, the retina of his right eye was detached, rendering him completely blind. A non-profit organisation gave him Donner to help him get around.
When the family visited Raffles City and Marina Square, security guards told them they could not bring Donner into the malls, said Mr Kurtz senior.
"But when we called the higher management, they said we could," he added. They endured similar experiences at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Skypark and the National Orchid Garden at the Botanic Gardens.
Aware that people in Singapore may not be familiar with guide dogs, the Kurtzs made it a point to call ahead of everywhere they went to check if Donner would be allowed in.
The only places which told them Donner was not allowed were the National Museum and Asian Civilisations Museum.
A check with malls, restaurants and attractions found most accepted guide dogs. An MBS spokesman said guide dogs are allowed on its premises, including the SkyPark and ArtScience Museum.
The only exceptions were the museums under the National Heritage Board, which bars all animals. A spokesman said it does not have a policy in place as requests related to guide dogs are rare, but it will look into one.
The law allows guide dogs in eateries and on public transport, but unlike in the United States and Australia, it is not against the law here to refuse entry to people with guide dogs, said Dr Seow-Choen. But he added that the situation has improved "tremendously" in the last few years.
Despite the hiccups, the Kurtzs said they would like to visit Singapore again. "No one's being mean-spirited, they're just doing their jobs," said Mr Kurtz senior.
"Donner and Daniel work as a team. When people reject Donner, they don't realise they're also rejecting Daniel."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.