Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – Danger on Four Paws – Dogs Attacking Guide Dogs: Part 1

It is estimated that there are over 8500 guide dog teams living and working in the United States today. Each year, professional guide dog schools like Guiding Eyes for the Blind, The Seeing Eye, Inc., and Guide Dogs for the Blind, just to name a few, graduate hundreds of new guide dogs with blind or visually impaired students. A working team faces obstacles and barriers every time the harness goes on and we step out into the community. Street crossings, traffic, construction, crowds, stairs, and ice and snow are the usual work a team encounters and all in stride. Our dogs keep us safe, provide us with a reliable means of traveling, and increase our independence. Most importantly, our dogs are part of us. We share more than just an ordinary pet/owner bond and this is why an attack upon a working guide dog team is a serious and traumatic event for both the dog and the person.

“…I heard the dogs charging at us from across the street. They immediately went for Gundy’s neck. I yelled at them and tried to push them away from Gundy. I got in one good swing; when I tried again, I received a bite to the middle finger of my right hand. I then panicked and yelled for help. I have never felt so helpless before. Until then, I had the attitude that I could take care of myself in almost any situation.” This was the account of a victim of a guide dog attack, taken from http://www.gdui.org/Guide-Dog-Documents/attack-handbook.html.

According to a 2011 survey taken by The Seeing Eye, Inc., 44% of guide dog handlers surveyed reported an attack on their dog by another dog. It is imperative for the general public and first responders alike to know that even a leashed dog can be as dangerous to a working team as a moving vehicle. A lunging dog can distract the guide dog and cause harm to the handler. Handlers have often reported that a leashed, lunging dog was responsible for secondary injuries due to the working dog attempting to avoid a confrontation.

Moreover, an attack by a loose dog is akin to an assault to the team, much like a mugging. By nature, a dog attack is violent and causes acute post-trauma symptoms for both handlers and dogs. After an attack, some dogs can no longer perform guide work due to physical and psychological trauma and have to be retired. This costs the schools tens of thousands of dollars, as the breeding and training of one guide dog ranges from $40-60 thousand dollars. Even more disturbing is the toll it takes upon the person. As victims of such a violent attack, handlers reported acute, post trauma symptoms like loss of sleep, hyper vigilance, and heightened anxiety when returning to working with his/her dog near the location in which the attack took place.

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