Attacks on Guide Dogs Rise to Record High in UK

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

The United States does not keep national statistics or records of attacks on guide dogs for the blind, but when two Pit Bulls broke loose from their owner and mauled a young Labrador in training in Davis, California, KTXLTVSacramento believed it was important enough to report as news on May 6.

The attack on the gentle one-year-old Black Lab, named Marcell, was mercifully stopped before she was seriously injured. Her physical wounds are healing, but the psychological and emotional damage will need to be determined over a period of time.

Guide dogs are trained to be submissive, so Marcell characteristically did not try to defend herself. Her trainer hopes the terrifying experience will not cause her to be defensive, shy or fearful of other dogs or develop other indications of distraction that would make her unable to concentrate on her special work as a guide dog for the blind.

The United Kingdom records every attack on a guide dog and is alarmed at the recent rapid increase. More than eight attacks on guide dogs are now being reported each month in the UK.

According to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, a British charity which trains dogs for the blind and partially sighted, 183 dog attacks occurred from May 2010 to April 2012; 96.7% occurred in public places, and victim guide dogs required veterinary attention in 76.3% of the incidents

''An attack on any dog is frightening, but for a guide dog owner it is much worse. As well as physical injuries, each dog attack leaves a deep psychological scar for both the owner and the guide dog. In the worst cases guide dogs have to be retired early; in others they are left unable to work for a significant amount of time,'' David Cowdrey, campaign manager for the charity told the Telegraph. Some guide dog owners have been left too frightened to go out as a result of an attack.

Gus, a guide dog belonging to Jemma Brown, 23, has been attacked six times. The worst time was in front of a coffee shop on the high street in Southampton, she said. 'This dog came charging towards us. It pinned Gus to the floor and the dog's owners couldn't get the dog to let go, so they started punching it in the head. 'But they caught Gus a few times too...He couldn't work for three weeks.''

Mr Cowdrey called on the police to take more decisive action when a guide dog is attacked. ''Ultimately we want them to be given the power to treat an attack on a guide dog or any other assistance dog like an attack on a person.''
The charity is urging the Government to introduce compulsory microchipping for all dogs to protect the vulnerable and control aggressive animals.

The Seeing Eye, Inc., based in New Jersey, reminds us that both guide dogs and their handlers can incur psychological and physical injuries secondary to an attack by an aggressive dog. The handler cannot see what is happening and is traumatized by the sounds of the attack. During the confusion of an attack and its aftermath, handlers can become disoriented and sustain physical injuries from hazards such as oncoming traffic. For example, one guide dog handler recently inadvertently stepped off a curb and fell while her dog was trying to flee from a menacing dog.

Ministers of the Parliament announced plans in April to crack down on dangerous dogs. A spokesman for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Compulsory micro-chipping to help police and local authorities deal with problem dogs is one measure we are consulting on and in the future it will be a criminal offence not to keep your dog under control on any private property."

''Once our consultation closes on June 15, we'll then carefully consider the responses before making a final announcement.''

A 2011 Dog Attack & Interference Survey for the United States was conducted by The Seeing Eye, Inc., to confirm anecdotal information indicating that guide dog teams experience a high frequency of attacks and interference. The survey revealed that 44% of respondents (324 out of 744) had experienced at least one attack. Of those, 58% were attacked more than once.

Findings also showed that 83% (617 respondents) had experienced interference by an aggressive dog. The vast majority of attacks (80%) and interference (83%) occurred on a public-right-of-way such as a sidewalk or roadway.

The Seeing Eye concludes that tougher laws are needed in the U.S. also.  This includes more police protection and a requirement that the owner of the attacking dog be responsible for all veterinary, medical, and other costs resulting from the attack, including the costs for remedial training or replacement of the guide dog.

This disturbing video shows an actual attack by a Pit Bull on a defenseless guide dog:

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