Nearly half of all guide dog teams say they’ve been attacked
Posted on February 3rd, 2014 by Beth
Donna Smith is the Director of Training with Easter Seals Project Action, and both of us are Seeing Eye graduates. Here she is with a guest post.
Protecting service animals at work
by Donna Smith
Service dogs are deservedly admired and often loved for the work they are trained to do to assist people with disabilities in performing daily tasks. Stories about service dogs appear regularly on animal TV shows, in newspaper articles, and in elementary school curricula (I love hearing stories of children going home to proudly teach their parents how they should never pet or distract a “working dog”—what a wonderful way to raise the awareness of appropriate behavior when encountering a person using a service dog).
One area that fails to get enough attention when it comes to using a service dog, however, is the damage that can be caused by other animals who are not properly controlled by their owners. Seeing Eye, Inc. surveyed guide dog users in 2011, and 44% of the guide dog users who responded said their working dog had been attacked by other dogs, and 83% said they’d experienced aggressive interference by other dogs.
While none of my service dogs have ever been attacked by another animal, I know firsthand what the threat of an attack feels like. I lived in Mississippi with my first Seeing Eye dog. Zane and I left for work so early in the morning back then that most of our walks to the bus were very peaceful. We rarely encountered another person, dog or car. Occasionally, though, a pair of chows would get out of their fenced yard and circle around us.
I could hear these dogs coming, and then feel them panting at my ankles as they circled around us. One or the other would come in close, rush at my dog, back off, then circle again. This didn’t happen every day, but the mere threat of it happening turned what should have been a peaceful three-block walk to the bus into a very isolating and high-stress experience.
Zane was a large, Black Lab, a very steady worker who was protective of me. My job was to keep us moving, making it far less likely for the dogs to engage in a staring match (the typical precursor to actual fighting). I was always very worried. I knew my dog would try to protect me, but he was outnumbered, and I wondered if his harness might prevent him from avoiding injury.
The owner of the chows refused to discuss the situation with me. Leash laws existed, but animal control said they could not act until an attack occurred. Advocates eventually got a state law passed that made such harassment punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine, but that was long after I moved out of state.
The Seeing Eye continues to work to get such laws passed state by state, and earlier this month I was pleased to hear that New Jersey joined a growing list of states with laws like this by passing “Dusty’s Law” to protect service animals and guide dogs in training. Check out the Seeing Eye web site for a list of states and their existing service animal legislation. There’s tips and information for the general public and law enforcement there, too.