A dedicated space for guide and assistance dogs | ourballarat winter 2023

For City of Ballarat Disability Advisory Committee member Heidi Biggin, the biggest stress of having her guide dog Freya is finding safe, discreet green spaces to take Freya to relieve herself in public.

A woman walking a with a black Labrador guide dog

A new project in Ballarat’s CBD is set to alleviate some of these stresses for Heidi and Ballarat residents with guide dogs and other service dogs.

Heidi had a frustrating moment in Ballarat CBD one night. At 11pm with her son in hospital with an asthma attack, the only green space Heidi could find to take her guide dog Freya to relieve herself was in the middle of Sturt Street.

“As a young woman, let alone a disabled woman, it’s very vulnerable not having a safe, dedicated green space to take Freya to relieve herself,” she says.

“I more or less have blinkers on telling people I can’t ID them if they attack me.”

This experience — and others like it — is why Heidi is pioneering the development of a dedicated assistance dog relief area in the Ballarat CBD through her work with the Disability Advisory Committee.

The space, which is proposed for installation in Doveton Street South, will comprise a shelter with seating, some fencing (though it will not be fully enclosed) and a path as well as other nearby amenities such as a drinking fountain and rubbish bin.

The project is being funded by Regional Development Victoria, through the ‘Living Local Fund’, and the City of Ballarat.  

Making life easier for people with guide dogs and assistance dogs

Slated for completion by the end of the year, the assistance dog relief area will be a gamechanger for Heidi and others like her. Currently, any visit to a public space requires a significant amount of planning and forethought for Heidi.

If Heidi visits a public space, she must either bring a square metre piece of turf for Freya to relieve herself on, and then dispose of it, or meticulously plan her outing to ensure she can access green space within two hours.

“Prior to getting Freya, it didn’t even cross my mind that this would be the biggest stress about having a guide dog,” Heidi says.

“It’s the timing of things – this, by far, is the number one obstacle to having a guide dog.”

For Heidi, the other components of the dedicated assistance dog relief area — access to a rubbish bin, a place to sit for herself and her children, a place to put Freya’s harness and her bags down — will make a big difference.

“Having this space next to Target, in the CBD, will save a lot of stress,” she says.

“It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Have a think about it: if you were in the middle of town and had to take an assistance dog to the toilet, what would you do?” 

Raising awareness

Sometimes accessing green space is not the only problem.  

For Heidi, the added issue of harassment — people asking her what she is doing or telling her that she cannot let Freya relieve herself in a particular space — contributes to her frustration.

“I’ve had people ask me: ‘if there’s grass there already, isn’t it safe?’,” she says.

“But unless it is an identified space, people will still ask questions or say ‘you can’t do that’, so it’s about awareness, too.”

While dedicated assistance dog relief areas are not common practice in Victoria, City of Ballarat Community Inclusion Officer Bernadette Duffy hopes that the installation of the toileting space in Doveton Street South will increase the community’s awareness of the needs of people like Heidi.

“There are a lot of people who would have no idea that safe toileting spaces are a requirement for assistance dogs,” she says.

“But being an inclusive community is thinking about what everyone’s needs are.”

Making the needs of people with assistance dogs obvious – through things like signage and dedicated spaces – is key in raising awareness, Bernadette says.

This is why the City of Ballarat will also install temporary public art around this assistance dog relief area, which will be developed collaboratively through guided community workshops with an artist.

“We are very aware that we are creating a space that will be used by people with low vision and who are blind, so part of thinking laterally about the art is asking: ‘how do we put a tactile element in that space or engage other senses, so we are bringing everyone on that journey?’,” Bernadette says.

“We are trying to be inclusive in the process as well as the outcome.” 

Did you know?

  • The number of guide and assistance dogs registered in the City of Ballarat for 2022/23 was 67.  
  • Guide dogs can toilet on command and cannot share a water bowl with other dogs due to the risk of contracting disease.  
  • Legally a guide or assistance dog can go anywhere to support a person with a disability.

City of Ballarat Council Plan Alignment

The projects, initiatives, and ideas in this article align with the following goals of the City of Ballarat Council Plan 2021-2025:

Goal 2 
A healthy, connected and inclusive community