Did you know that in Victoria, 34% of blind or vision impaired Guide Dog handlers have had their Guide Dogs attacked while working? This stat completely knocked my socks off! I genuinely couldn’t believe it. Nationally, this figure climbs even higher to a staggering 40%. There is a Victorian Guide Dog attacked by another dog around once every month. Attacks aside, pet dogs simply distracting working Guide Dogs is a huge safety concern for their handlers, with most surveyed saying they experienced this problem on a weekly, if not daily basis. Clearly, as dog owners, we’re letting the team down!
Guide Dog handler and Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes AM with his Guide Dog, Arrow
This problem is not just localised to Australia. An overseas survey conducted by The Seeing Eye in America in 2011 revealed that a whopping 44% of respondents had experienced at least one attack. Another important point raised by the The Seeing Eye survey was that while off-lead dogs were responsible for attacks in 76% of positive responses, 47% had also been attacked by dogs on-lead that were inadequately controlled by their owners. In other words, you need to be in control of your dog when out and about.
Once when I was a kid I remember walking up the street with our family dog, and our friendly neighbour shouting down his driveway “Hey Jo, are you walking that dog or is she walking you?!” He was spot on. If she’d decided to go after something (thank god we don’t have squirrels!) there was no way I was stopping her. She was a big strong Labrador x who weighed almost as much as me and I simply did not have control.
About the Take the Lead Campaign
So dog attacks on working Guide Dogs is clearly a significant problem that needs addressing. All around the world it has been reported as one of the main reasons that Guide Dogs have to be prematurely retired. When these beautiful animals cost around $30,000 to train, this is a huge issue in itself. It goes without saying that Guide Dogs are an integral part of their handlers’ lives. I mean, I love my dogs as members of the family, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if on top of this they were also my source of mobility.
“Guide Dogs play a vital role in enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to get around independently. Attacks compromise this independence and can cause serious injury and trauma to both the guide dog and its handler” – Guide Dogs Victoria CEO, Karen Hayes.
Distraction of working Guide Dogs by pets alone is a major safety concern for their vision impaired handlers. It is also a safety concern for the dog. A Guide Dog may not receive serious physical injuries in an attack, but the effects on their behaviour and ability to do their job can be very damaging. If a Guide Dog is unable to continue working due to the physical or emotional consequences of an attack, this is just devastating to their handler.
Guide Dogs Victoria, in association with Guide Dogs organisations nationally, have launched a public education campaign called Take The Lead. The mission of this campaign is to encourage pet owners to be responsible and always walk their dogs on a lead.
What is ‘Take the Lead’ and Why is it so Important?
A Little Support from Bondi!
Those of you who have seen the program Bondi Vet will recognise another supporter of this campaign, celebrity vet and dog owner, Dr Lisa Chimes. Lisa has witnessed the trauma of dog attacks first-hand and has jumped on board to help remind the public about the importance of responsible dog ownership.
“I’ve had my own pet dog attacked by another dog, which was absolutely terrifying and I can’t imagine how scary that would be for someone who is vision impaired,” said Dr Chimes. “And as a vet, I’ve seen so many pet dogs injured from being attacked by other dogs that are off leads and out of control.
“It’s our responsibility as pet owners to take control of our dogs and walk them on a lead because we need to make our community safe for our pets and for guide dogs.”
Dr Lisa Chimes with her two cute pooches, Nelson and Lucas
And Don’t Forget the Puppies!
It takes nearly two years to train a playful puppy into a responsible Guide Dog. Before starting formal training, the gorgeous little puppies have some growing up to do! They do this over around twelve months in the loving homes of puppy raisers, one of whom is my mother in law, Pam. She has raised NINE Guide Dog puppies for Guide Dogs Victoria, and looked after many, many others when their puppy raisers have needed a little help.
Rianne was actually attacked by a couple of dogs two weeks before starting her training! One of the things Pam has said to me is that time and time again, people see a puppy with it’s coat on and want to interact. They literally cross the street with their dogs to “say hello.” Without the coat the pups get little attention and people walk on by, but the coat that says they are a Guide Dog in training actually attracts people. This is not on. Poor Pam has copped attitude and criticism from random strangers when she has politely asked them not to touch or let their dog greet the pups, and this isn’t fair. If you see a Guide Dog pup in its coat, please ignore it. The puppy needs to learn that it is on duty and to concentrate and behave appropriately. The puppies get loads of opportunities to have fun and be normal puppies when their coats are off, but wearing the coat means business.
So Join Me in Taking The Lead!
If you feel like you need a fix of ADORABLE Guide Dog pups, check some out here
And here’s a lighthearted video to finish with – my fave bit is when the Guide Dog says “Hey, Cheers for that!”
Have a great day
A huge thank you to the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT for the images and quotes used in this article.
This is not a sponsored post. I hope in my own small way I have been able to help support the Guide Dogs and the wonderful work they do.