Dog Attack Handbook: "The Team, The Attack"

A State Legislator's Handbook on Guide Dog Protection

Guide Dog Users Inc.

First Edition, December, 2001

Table of Contents

Introduction

Guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI) is the nation's leading consumer and advocacy organization of people with visual impairments working with guide dogs as their primary means of mobility. Since the formation of GDUI in 1972, both State and Federal laws have been developed and strengthened to protect the rights of blind people to be accompanied by their guide dogs. With nearly 1,000 members in all 50 states, GDUI continues to play a key role in the formation and oversight of such access laws as part of its ongoing mission.

One significant and very troubling issue continues to exist, however, in regard to safe and effective work with guide dogs. Clearly, State laws do not yet consistently protect the rights of blind individuals and their guide dogs to safely travel within their communities without being obstructed, harmed or killed due to harassment or attack by aggressive dogs - or by humans.

GDUI is saddened to tell you that we have received an increasing number of reported incidents involving loose dog attacks on guide dogs. Although most local and state laws prohibit dogs roaming about unleashed and unsupervised, many of the existing penalties are not significant enough to alter the behavior of an irresponsible pet owner. Furthermore, the penalty for permitting a dog to roam at-large is often difficult to administer and rarely covers the true value of the loss of a trained guide dog or its services.

Guide dogs are highly trained animals and are far from being ordinary dogs or pets; rather they enhance a blind person's freedom, safety and independence. When a guide dog is no longer serviceable as a guide due to the physical or emotional effects of an attack, it is devastating to the blind handler to lose this valued companion and source of mobility. Moreover, the cost of the dog and services from an organization that trains dog guides can range up to $60,000.00 per person/dog team.

To date, 16 states have recognized this problem and have passed laws protecting those who use guide and other assistance dogs. GDUI has compiled "The Team, The Attack" handbook to assist state and local government officials in understanding the tragic impact an attack may inflict on a guide dog team and to provide recommendations for crafting an effective guide dog protection law. The members of GDUI urge you to carefully review the contents of this handbook and to support the passage and enforcement of this vitally important law.

Accounts by handlers of guide dogs attacked by loose dogs

It is nearly impossible to overstate the fear, danger and frustration experienced by guide dog teams when loose dogs confront them. It is sincerely hoped that the importance of legislation regarding loose dog attacks on guide dogs will be evident in reading the following first-hand accounts of guide dog handlers who have been unfortunate enough to have suffered one or more of these frightening encounters.

  • “…A big black dog came charging down the hill. It jumped on Addie, took her by the back of the neck, picked her up and shook her. That knocked me down. Then the attacking dog grabbed her by the throat. At that point, the owner arrived and got the dog under control. Addie was on the ground and whining. The dog had injured my lab's back and pelvis. She needed medical attention and treatment for several weeks afterward.”
    - Lynn Mason Courtney; Bethel, ME
  • “…There were bunches of people around, but no one was willing to do anything. As I tried to move away, the dog followed Holly, staying face to face with her and continually barking and snapping, no matter what evasive maneuvers I tried.”
    - Jeanine Worden; Arlington, VA
  • “…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.”
    - Bob Hachey; Waltham, MA
  • “…It took tremendous amounts of love and constant working to help both of us recover emotionally from the attacks. It's horrible, and something you truly never forget.”
    - Kathy Huff
  • “…Buddy and I have been harassed by loose dogs as well as by people who think it is fun to upset someone who is blind and can't see them. During one incident with a loose dog, Buddy became afraid and pulled me to the right and I hit a metal sign very hard. Then he didn't stop to warn me about the curb and I fell down into the street.”
    - Charlie Lynch; Newport News, VA
  • “…The dog had its teeth latched to Amy's neck. I felt with my hands and realized Amy was in grave danger. My friend was trying to pull the dog off Amy as I pounded my fists on the dog's head, muzzle, and tried to pry his mouth off my dog. The fear going through my body was indescribable as I pictured my dog slowly dying in front of me.”
    - Kari Kopischke; Minneapolis, MN
  • “…Zack had been attacked 3 times by loose dogs, including once, while we were waiting for a bus. Zack's right front leg was severely injured. Before his attacks, he loved other dogs; afterwards, he became very aggressive and defensive around them. This aggressiveness affected his work, to say nothing of the fact that, from that time on, I would panic every time I heard a dog!”
    - Bob Mates; Pittsburgh, PA
  • “…The attack lasted about thirty seconds, but in those thirty seconds that seemed like an eternity, Pilar's right ear was ripped, and the dog had put a puncture hole between her shoulder blades.”
    - Joanie Delzer; Sacramento, CA
  • “…As Lenny spun around to get away from the attacking dog, his leash wrapped around my ankles and I was yanked flat onto the sidewalk and dragged several feet before the owner was able to get his dog under control.”
    - Kevin Chinn; Phoenix, AZ
  • “…I tried to push the dog off and do all that I could but it just hung tightly onto Sundae. One of the people on the street said they wanted to help me but they were afraid of this dog and that the owners had gone to work and left the dog to run loose. Next thing I know, we were in the middle of the intersection and Sundae was sprawled out in the road. All the cars saw me crying and asking for help but they just kept driving around us. Thankfully, a garbage truck stopped and a guy took a stick to the loose dog.”
    - Marie Keane; Pittsburgh, PA
  • “…Holiday was slashed on the inside and outside of her right hind leg, as well as on her right front leg and chest. She suffered deep and jagged bite wounds to her neck - so serious that a second surgery had to be performed to cut away tissue that would not heal.”
    - Armida Martinez
  • “…The dog did not give any real warning, he just attacked. It was awfull! All I could do was drop the harness handle and leash and let Kiowa protect herself.”
    - John A. Flemming; Williams, OR
  • “…As I approached the Student Union, out of nowhere, a dog lunged at my dog snarling and growling. I screamed and screamed; somewhere along the way, I dropped her harness and just held the leash, as I feared she/they would go into the street. After the dogs were separated, I flew into the Student Union Building and downstairs to hide.”
    - Darla Dahl; Americus, GA
  • “…Evan and I were home from guide dog school less than 6 weeks when he was not only assaulted 4 times in less than 2 weeks by the same neighborhood dog but this same dog would often sit on my front stairs and prevent us from safely approaching our house. 23 calls were made to the local dog officer - not to mention the countless calls to the local police department who claimed they could not do anything until the dog officer filed a formal complaint.”
    - Pat Hill; Malden, MA
  • “…Unleashed, uncontrolled pet dogs are one of the most dangerous things we guide dog handlers must deal with as we go about our daily routines.”
    - DeAnna Noriega; Manitou Springs, CO

Elements of an Effective Guide Dog Protection Law

Existing guide dog protection laws - where they do exist - are not always sufficient to prevent the growing number of attacks on or interference with guide dog teams or the devastating effects that result from such events. This section of the handbook is designed to identify and explain the critical issues that guide dog teams face when confronted by a loose or inadequately controlled dog or by persons who purposely or otherwise impede, attack or harm the team. Recommended approaches for addressing the problems that result from non-existent or insufficient laws are also provided. It should be noted that nothing in this section is intended to negate any civil remedies that may be available for such violations.

ISSUE #1:

It has become increasingly apparent that animal control officers, whose services are not typically available during non-standard business hours, cannot successfully remedy an attack situation in a timely and effective manner. Moreover, the confusion as to who is responsible for taking action in a dog attack situation continually results in a less than favorable outcome for the guide dog team.

EXPLANATION:

Enforcement is a key element in the success of a guide dog protection law. Although implementing stiffer penalties and fines for failing to keep pets under control may encourage compliance with state and local leash laws, the need for around-the-clock enforcement is vital.

It is important to recognize that, when a guide dog is attacked, the blind person's travel is suddenly and severely restricted, often without any warning. And either or both team members become instantly vulnerable to bodily injury inflicted by the attacking dog. Both guide dog team members are truly at a disadvantage during the attack. Blind handlers face this emergency without the opportunity to use vision to defend themselves or their guides, while the guides, who are bred and trained to be non-aggressive, are also harnessed and leashed.

In the confusion of the attack and its aftermath, either or both team members may be exposed to vehicular traffic or other environmental dangers without being safely oriented to their immediate surroundings.

Timely action by the police would not only provide greater protection for the guide dog team but may also be more likely to result in corroborating evidence from sighted witnesses who can report observations and descriptions that the blind person may not be able to report.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The law should explicitly identify the police as being responsible for the enforcement of a guide dog protection law thereby eliminating any potential conflicts between animal control and law enforcement officials. Penal codes should be developed for violations involving dogs or persons that attack guide dogs. Fines collected from such attacks should be utilized to offset any costs incurred in the enforcement of these laws.


ISSUE #2:

Attack on a guide dog team by a leashed dog that is inadequately controlled by its owner/keeper can have the same harmful effects as those of a vicious attack by a loose dog - regardless of the handler's intent.

EXPLANATION:

Stray dogs and irresponsible owners who let their animals run loose are not the only ones who pose a threat to the guide dog team's safety. Many pet owners fail to understand that a working dog should not be distracted while in the discharge of its duties. Pet owners who allow a leashed dog to make physical contact with a guide dog or to otherwise distract or interfere with a guide dog needlessly risk the safety of the working team.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

It should be unlawful for any person to permit any dog that is owned, harbored, or controlled by him or her to cause injury to or the death of a guide dog while the working dog is in discharge of its duties regardless of the intent of the offending dog's owner/keeper/handler. Criminal penalties for this type of offense should be significant enough to alter the behavior of an irresponsible dog owner, yet differences in punishment should be levied for willfully vs. recklessly vs. negligently causing damages to the handler and unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to a guide dog. Incremental increases in punishment should be used to punish - hopefully to prevent - repeat offenses.


ISSUE #3:

The total financial burden sustained by a guide dog handler whose working dog has been attacked is not always evident, but is often substantial and - in many instances - emotionally, as well as financially devastating to the blind handler. Unfortunately, such costs are seldom fully recovered due to the inadequate provisions set forth by most existing laws.

EXPLANATION:

Besides costing taxpayers money due to animal welfare complaint investigations and enforcement efforts, the price of loose dog attacks to both the blind handler and the dog may be extraordinary. Such attacks can be costly in terms of injury, veterinary care, guide dog retraining or replacement, emotional trauma and loss of mobility for the blind handler.

In addition to the immediate effects of the attack, there may be damages of an on-going nature that will require follow-up treatment. Lost wages may result from injuries to the handler or loss of the guide dog's services.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The guide dog protection law should clearly place the responsibility on the owner/keeper/handler of the attacking dog for all veterinary, medical, and other costs resulting from the attack - including replacing the handler's lost income and the costs for remedial training or replacement of the guide dog.


ISSUE #4:

The outcome of an attack by a small dog or a dog not typically characterized as an aggressive breed can be just as devastating to a guide dog or its handler as that of a breed that is usually considered dangerous.

EXPLANATION:

Any dog can become a threat if they are not properly socialized and trained, if they are not properly cared for and restrained, if they are mistreated, or if they are deliberately bred or encouraged to attack people or animals.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

The guide dog protection law should be a deterrence to the owner/keeper/handler of any dog that would otherwise attack or interfere with a guide dog team, regardless of the size, breed, shape or form of the offending dog. Reference in the law to any specific breed of dog, therefore, should be avoided.


ISSUE #5:

Loose and improperly controlled pets are not the only threats to the safety of the guide dog team. Humans who intentionally interfere with a guide dog team may have equally damaging effects on the team.

EXPLANATION:

"A less frequent threat to the guide dog team than loose dogs, but just as serious, is the individual who specifically targets the blind handler or guide dog with malicious intent."

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Any person who intentionally causes injury to or the death of a guide dog should be met with severe penalties including long-term imprisonment, harsh fines and possibly prosecution for "hate crimes".

Any person who intentionally interferes with the use of a guide dog by obstructing, harassing or otherwise jeopardizing the safety of the dog guide or its handler should also bear criminal penalties.

Finally, any person who wrongfully obtains or exerts unauthorized control over a dog guide with the intent to deprive the dog guide user of his or her dog guide should be guilty of theft in the first degree. Persons committing such crimes should also be ordered to pay full restitution for any damages when applicable.

Guide dog protection laws must also provide protection against any human attack that interferes with the mobility, health or safety of the guide dog and handler - regardless of whether or not the guide dog is in the discharge of its duties at the time of attack.

Guide dog law recently enacted by the state of Washington

Layla's Law was recently enacted by the Washington State Legislature and is often cited as one of the strongest and clearest guide dog protection laws of any State. Yet disputes as to who should enforce this law have already resulted in a move to amend it so that the intent of the law - to have around the clock police protection - is more clearly spelled out. The use of the term "reckless disregard" in the law has also been questioned. As a result, the importance of the offending dog owner's intent to cause harm is now also being scrutinized. Despite this, Layla's Law is presented below as an example of one State's effort to protect its citizens who rely on their guides for their ability to travel and live independently.

ESSB 5942 - Layla's Law

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

Sec. 1. This act may be known and cited as Layla's Law.

Sec. 2. A new section is added to chapter 9.91 RCW to read as follows:

  1. (a) Any person who has received notice that his or her behavior is interfering with the use of a dog guide or service animal who continues with reckless disregard to interfere with the use of a dog guide or service animal by obstructing, intimidating, or otherwise jeopardizing the safety of the dog guide or service animal user or his or her dog guide or service animal is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that for a second or subsequent offense it is a gross misdemeanor.

    (b) Any person who, with reckless disregard, allows his or her dog to interfere with the use of a dog guide or service animal by obstructing, intimidating, or otherwise jeopardizing the safety of the dog guide or service animal user or his or her dog guide or service animal is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that for a second or subsequent offense it is a gross misdemeanor.
     
  2. (a) Any person who, with reckless disregard, injures, disables, or causes the death of a dog guide or service animal is guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.

    (b) Any person who, with reckless disregard, allows his or her dog to injure, disable, or cause the death of a dog guide or service animal is guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.


     
  3. Any person who intentionally injures, disables, or causes the death of a dog guide or service animal is guilty of a class C felony.

     
  4. Any person who wrongfully obtains or exerts unauthorized control over a dog guide or service animal with the intent to deprive the dog guide or service animal user of his or her dog guide or service animal is guilty of theft in the first degree, RCW 9A.56.030.

     
  5. (a) In any case in which the defendant is convicted of a violation of this section, he or she shall also be ordered to make full restitution for all damages, including incidental and consequential expenses incurred by the dog guide or service animal user and the dog guide or service animal which arise out of or are related to the criminal offense.

    (b) Restitution for a conviction under this section shall include, but is not limited to:

    (i) The value of the replacement of an incapacitated or deceased dog guide or service animal, the training of a replacement dog guide or service animal, or retraining of the affected dog guide or service animal and all related veterinary and care expenses; and

    (ii) Medical expenses of the dog guide or service animal user, training of the dog guide or service animal user, and compensation for wages or earned income lost by the dog guide or service animal user.

     
  6. Nothing in this section shall affect any civil remedies available for violation of this section.
     
  7. For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:

    (a) "Dog guide" means a dog that is trained for the purpose of guiding blind persons or a dog trained for the purpose of assisting hearing impaired persons.

    (b) "Service animal" means an animal that is trained for the purposes of assisting or accommodating a disabled person's sensory, mental, or physical disability.


    (c) "Notice" means a verbal or otherwise communicated warning prescribing the behavior of another person and a request that the person stop their behavior.

    (d) "Value" means the value to the dog guide or service animal user and does not refer to cost or fair market value.

Concerns from a guide dog school

The Seeing Eye, the nation's oldest school providing specially bred and trained dog guides for blind individuals, offers the following explanation to assist in the understanding of how a guide dog team can be affected by a dog attack. Although the text specifically references The Seeing Eye, the letter below accurately represents the sentiments of most, if not all, such schools including the other sponsors of this handbook - Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guide Dogs of the Desert, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Leader Dogs for the Blind.

To Whom It May Concern

Each year, scores of blind people with dog guides are attacked by dogs off leash, roaming the streets. The impact of such attacks is tragic and costly.

Threats and attacks by other dogs not properly controlled can destroy a Seeing Eye dog's ability to guide safely and make the blind person fearful of traveling freely. The trauma of such an attack on both the blind person and the dog is inestimable. It can undo training and self confidence, for the person and the dog, and grossly interfere with a blind person's access to streets, sidewalks and all places of public accommodation guaranteed by state laws and by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Dog attacks on dog guides are devastating. Some dogs die. Even if the dog survives the attack, it often becomes fearful of other dogs and the location where the attack occurred. The fear manifests itself by the dog's refusal to approach any dog it meets along the route it travels with its blind master. It takes a long time for the fear to wane and this diminishes the blind person's freedom to travel. And while the Seeing Eye dog is bred to be mellow and is trained to ignore other animals, once attacked, its natural instincts may make it aggressive in return. An aggressive dog guide cannot work properly in social situations and the blind owner would have to obtain a new dog. It may take several months waiting for a class date and the appropriate dog, and then four weeks in residence at The Seeing Eye for a blind person to learn to work with a new dog guide. This would be a tremendous imposition and interrupt the blind person's job, family life and routine.

It costs The Seeing Eye $50,000 to breed, raise and train a dog and to provide a blind person with round trip airfare to New Jersey, room and board for four weeks, the course of instruction, the dog, the dog's equipment and follow-up services for life. A dog will work on average 8 years. To disrupt the working life a trained dog guide because a pet owner did not control its dog is shameful waste.

Nationwide, there are approximately 8,000 citizens who are blind leading independent, productive lives because they can travel freely and safely to work, to school, to places of worship, around their communities and on vacation because of their trained dog guides. All are vulnerable to a growing number of rogue and attack dogs. The problem is just as serious in cities where more people are purchasing guard dogs as it is in rural areas where dogs traditionally have run free and in suburban communities where pet ownership is on the rise.

Many states already have recognized this problem and have laws to punish residents whose pets attack dog guides and their owners. Among them are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington.

Your state's proposed legislation, expanded to enforce leash laws and impose strict penalties, will rein in the owners of offending dogs and help to lessen if not totally eliminate the tragedy and cost that result from attacks on dog guides and their owners.

Sincerely yours,
Douglas Roberts
Director of Programs
The Seeing Eye &trade

Letter from the President of Guide Dog Users, Inc.

If you consider the deep love that binds an owner to their pet and if you add to this the sense of ownership and dependence that attaches an individual to their automobile, then you begin to have a picture of the unique relationship between the guide dog handler and their dog. And if you understand the time and effort needed to prepare a dog for its role as a guide, you can appreciate how valuable that animal is.

It takes skilled breeding methods plus a year to eighteen months of love and commitment from a family that temporarily adopts a tiny puppy before the guide- dog-to-be is even ready for training. The dog then returns to the school where it was born and is placed in the care of a trainer who respects the loving heart and innate desire of the dog to work for the paycheck of praise. It takes from four to six months to train the dog to be a guide, training that requires the dog to control its canine instincts in order to be a safe and reliable partner for a blind person.

When the dog is at last fully trained, a match occurs with the prospective new handler. The dog meets a nervous, yet hopeful person who is either totally inexperienced in handling a dog or who has ended a relationship with a previous partner. People who previously had a guide dog are often unsure that they will ever bond and work with this new dog in quite the same way.

Bit by bit, the team begins to do more good work than bad and they both begin to believe that it is safe to offer their hearts to one another. This process continues after the handler takes the dog home and the miracle that has been taking place becomes a bond so strong and so complete that it is almost tangible. This is the story of that well-behaved and excellently trained guide dog and its handler that you have probably seen and perhaps with whom you have shared a word and a smile.

Imagine the hurt and rage, the sorrow and frustration at the needless waste when a working dog is changed into a being that cowers and trembles when it reaches a certain intersection or passes by a certain house or sees another dog or smells a smell or hears a sound that brings back that fearful, awful moment when, from out of nowhere, it was attacked by a loose dog. Imagine fear so strong that the dog finds it impossible to work for the master to whom it has lovingly and selflessly devoted its life. Imagine all the emotions felt by the handler as they try to rescue the dog. The handler cannot describe the attacking dog, cannot describe the owner of the attacking dog, can only stand alone - angry and afraid - soon realizing that no one will come forward to testify to what has happened. Imagine the feelings that defy description when the handler comes to the realization that this wonderful guide must be retired and that they must begin this process all over again with no assurance that their new guide will not suffer the same fate.

Every year, GDUI members contact us with versions of this tale of horror and needless waste and pain. One such tragedy should be enough to motivate passage and enforcement of this vitally important law and the mounting of a rigorous publicity campaign. Will you do the right thing? Will you stand with us and lend your time, talent and energy to ending this senseless, tragic loss?

Sincerely,
Debbie Grubb, President
Guide Dog Users Inc.

Acknowledgements

Guide Dog Users Inc. wishes to express sincere thanks to all those who have contributed in various ways to the creation of this very important handbook. Special tribute goes to Thom Ainsworth of Guide Dogs for the Blind who provided valuable legislative input and guidance each step of the way and to Jon Steuerwalt who worked tirelessly to compile and edit all the pieces of this handbook. Many thanks to each and every member of GDUI's legislative committee whose commitment to the protection of guide dogs inspired and made this publication possible. Finally, we extend our gratitude to the guide dog schools identified below that have generously contributed information and financial support for the production of The Team, The Attack handbook.

Ginger Bennett
Guide Dog Users Inc.

Sponsors

  • Guide Dogs for the Blind; San Rafael, CA
    1-800-295-4050
  • Guide Dogs of the Desert; Palm Springs, CA
    1-760-329-6257
  • Guiding Eyes for the Blind; Yorktown Heights, NY
    1-800-942-0149
  • Leader Dogs for the Blind; Rochester, MI
    1-888-777-5332
  • The Seeing Eye Inc.; Morristown, NJ
    1-800-539-4425

Additional Resources

Guide Dogs for the Blind has compiled protection laws from all 50 states.