Lolly Lijewski is a five-time Seeing Eye Dog handler. She was instrumental in the passage of two laws that protect service dogs and their handlers from dog-on-dog and human-on-dog interference or attack in Minnesota. She has been an advocate for people with disabilities for 30 years. She lives in Minneapolis with her Seeing Eye Dog, Brook, and two cats.
Dog attacks and interference from other dogs are a problem for any dog owner, but they are a potential career-ending event for guide dog teams. Recently, The Seeing Eye (this country’s first, and the world’s oldest, guide dog school) conducted a survey of guide dog handlers to determine the scope of the problem. (Download a PDF of the report here.)
Guide dog handlers from around the country, regardless of the school from which they obtained their dog, were asked to respond to the survey. Of 744 respondents, 44 percent indicated they experienced at least one dog attack, and 58 percent of those respondents indicated they experienced more than one attack. In addition, 83 percent of handlers responding to the survey indicated that they experienced interference from another dog while working their guide dog. Interference was defined as, “chasing, blocking or other menacing,” behavior that distracted the guide dog from its job of safely guiding a blind person.
When a guide dog team is working, the blind handler might hear the clicking of doggy nails on pavement or the jingling of tags or a leash to alert them to an approaching dog. Or they might hear nothing. The approaching dog might be on leash or running loose. The handler won’t know for sure if the dog’s companion has it under control or if the dog is about to lunge at his or her working guide. All of this can create anxiety to fear in the blind handler.
If the guide dog is attacked—as happened in separate incidents involving a puppy raiser with his puppy and a student in training recently, as described recently in The Guide, The Seeing Eye’s quarterly publication—the results can range from a frightening encounter to physical or emotional injury that can end the career of a guide dog.
Fortunately, the student and her new Seeing Eye dog were able to continue as a working team. The dog was treated for puncture wounds on its neck and the team completed class and returned home together. The puppy raiser and his puppy weren’t so lucky. The puppy was attacked by a loose dog and suffered physical and emotional trauma such that he could not continue training to become a Seeing Eye dog. The puppy raiser lost the tip of his middle finger trying to separate the dogs.
The Seeing Eye offers the following tips for pet owners who encounter guide dog teams:
Never let your dog near a guide dog, even if your pet is leashed. Guide dogs are working animals and distraction from their duties can pose a serious safety issue.
When passing by a guide dog team, a simple greeting of “Hi, I have a dog with me” is often appreciated.
Learn and obey state and local leash laws. In many states, it’s a criminal offense for dog owners to permit their dogs to attack or interfere with a guide dog.
If your dog causes harm, take responsibility for its actions.
If you see an attack on a guide dog team, identify yourself and offer assistance.
Keep your dog under good control at all times. Never allow it to be walked by a child or anyone who is unable to manage its behavior.
Seeing Eye Advocacy Specialist Ginger Kutsch authored a report on the results of the survey. It can be found on The Seeing Eye website.