A MUSEUM that prides itself on supporting blind and partially-sighted visitors has been criticised for its 'ridiculous' reason for turning away a guide dog in training.

Staff at Oxford University Museum of Natural History said seven-month-old puppy Mark could not enter on Saturday as he 'might eat the exhibits', according to owners Peter and Rhona Bratt.

Following the incident being highlighted on social media, the museum says it will now allow guide dog puppies in the future and that the policy had actually been in place because animals 'carry pests' which can 'damage the organic material' in displays.

The West Yorkshire couple were in the city to visit friend and Oxford-based children's author Cas Lester.

In their role as puppy walkers for charity Guide Dogs, black Labrador and Golden Retriever cross Mark goes everywhere with them to get used to the wide range of situations he will face when helping someone who is visually impaired.

Mr Bratt, 71, who has trained 11 guide dogs over 12 years and often visits Oxford, said it was only the third time they had ever been refused entry somewhere.

He added: "There's no legal requirement for businesses to let 'in training' dogs in as we are not disabled and so it doesn't break equality law, but most places understand it's only logical that guide dogs need to learn and this is the best way to do it.

"We stayed and argued the case because it is so unusual to be refused but the front of house manager insisted he couldn't come in as 'he might eat the exhibits', which sounded ridiculous and an answer made up on the spot."

The former BBC producer welcomed the museum's subsequent change of policy but said it highlighted the importance of challenging the reasoning behind refusal.

He said: "It's National Guide Dogs Awareness Week and I think what happened is a timely reminder of the training that goes into producing guide dogs who can handle any situation."

Ms Lester added she had found the refusal 'shocking' and said: "Their excuse that the dogs ‘might eat the exhibits’ was nonsense.

"Supermarkets, restaurants and cafes don’t assume the dogs will ‘eat the food’, libraries don’t think the dogs might ‘eat the books’, trains, buses and taxis aren’t worried the dogs will ‘eat the seat'.

"All these venues appreciate this is the way guide dog puppies are trained and know they can rely on the people in charge of the puppies to control them."

Clive Wood, engagement officer for Guide Dogs, said volunteers like Mr and Mrs Bratt, who look after the canines for a year, play a 'vital part' in the journey of a puppy to become a 'life-changing' guide dog for a blind or partially sighted person.

He added: "Although services providers are not required to allow access to guide dog puppies in training, we do ask for their support and understanding in this important element of the training process."

A spokesman for the museum said it had been consulting with the national charity to update its policy on admitting assistance dogs in training.

He added: "As this work isn’t quite complete, our front of house staff adopted the current policy, which is that the museum does not admit dogs other than working assistance dogs.

"This is because animals carry pests which can damage the organic material of many displays in the museum.

"However, following the discussion on Saturday, when a visitor asked to bring in a Guide Dog puppy in training, the museum’s policy will be to admit assistance dogs in training from now on."

He continued: "Through these and other initiatives we are committed to improving the experience of blind and partially-sighted visitors and recognise that the training of assistance dogs is an important part of that process."

The museum was one of five partners in RNIB’s Sensing Culture project to improve access to heritage for blind and partially sighted people, and recently hosted Guide Dogs’ regional meeting and held a Meet the Guide Dog day.