In Your Hands: dog owners urged to take control of pets as half of Guide Dog handlers report dog attacks
One in two Guide Dog handlers in NSW and the ACT reported they have had a Guide Dog attacked by another dog while working, according to a new client survey[i] by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT in the lead up to International Guide Dog Day (25 April).
An overwhelming 78% of attacks on Guide Dogs were caused by an off-lead dog, with dogs on a lead but not controlled by their owner responsible for the other 22% of attacks. When asked when the most recent attack had occurred, more than half (52%) of those who reported attacks said it occurred within the last year.
One-third (34%) of those who reported an attack said it resulted in injuries to their Guide Dog, with one Guide Dog retired as a result of the trauma.
In response, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s new In Your Hands campaign aims to make the community aware that the safety of Guide Dogs is in the hands of pet owners. The campaign is encouraging pet owners to keep their dogs on-lead when out in public and follow simple Guide Dog etiquette, in the name of responsible pet ownership.
“We want to raise awareness of the danger off-lead pet dogs pose to working Guide Dogs and their handlers, and educate the community about the importance of keeping pet dogs on leads and under control when in public areas and particularly when around Guide Dogs,” said Dale Cleaver, CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
Sydney based Guide Dog handler, Liz Wheeler knows all too well the danger off-lead dogs can pose to the safety of herself and her Guide Dog Poppi.
“On one occasion, Poppi was nipped at by two small dogs on the street. The dogs were with their owners, but were off-leash and uncontrolled. Poppi kept pulling away from the other dogs and as a result we ended up being pushed out onto the road, which was a scary and unsafe situation to be in. Once I got Poppi home I found small bite marks on her belly. It was a completely avoidable situation if the dogs had of been on leads,” said Guide Dog handler, Liz Wheeler.
“Another time, Poppi and I came across a loose dog which barked and acted aggressively. I was able to hold the dog away from Poppi, as it was wearing a vest that I could securely take a hold of. I was shouting out for help or to see if the owner was nearby. The next thing I know, I hear a voice yelling at me and accusing me of trying to steal the dog. Off lead dogs have the potential to cause confusion for Guide Dog handlers and uncomfortable situations that really shouldn’t happen in the first place,” Liz added.
Aside from attacks, the survey also revealed working Guide Dogs experience high levels of every day distractions from other dogs, causing their handler who is blind or vision impaired to experience anxiety, a loss of confidence, and have their safety and independence compromised.
Again, dogs not on leads were the major problem, with 80% of Guide Dog handlers surveyed saying off-lead dogs had distracted their Guide Dogs while working. Other distractions Guide Dog Handlers reported include:
- unaccompanied dogs tied up outside shops and cafes;
- a person with a dog approaching a Guide Dog Team without making themselves known, and;
- dogs on-lead not being controlled by their owners.
- Barking dogs behind fences and dogs tied up on parked utes in rural areas were also mentioned.
In addition, Guide Dog handlers reported feeling annoyed, angry and frustrated that they still encounter these types of dog related distractions despite similar community awareness campaigns in the past. They also expressed concern for the safety of their Guide Dog and one-third (31%) of survey respondents said they now avoid certain locations known for dog-related problems.
“It’s really worrying that so many Guide Dogs are still being attacked or distracted by off-lead pet dogs, especially when this is a recurrent topic amongst our community awareness campaigns,” said Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO, Dale Cleaver.
“Guide Dogs play a vital role in enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to move around their community independently. Attacks and distractions compromise this independence and can cause serious injury and trauma to both the handler and the Guide Dog. In rare serious cases, attacks can result in premature retirement of a Guide Dog, which costs more than $35,000 to train.
“Australians love their dogs, and rightly so. They are our most popular pet with more than 4.8 million dogs across the country. I have a pet dog myself, and knowing the bond and affection I have for her, I could not imagine something happening to her – nevertheless a dog I relied on for my safety and independence.
“We’re reminding dog owners across NSW and the ACT that the safety of Guide Dogs and handlers is very much in your hands. By keeping control of your own dog, you can help create a safe community, not just for Guide Dogs and their handlers, but for everyone,” Mr Cleaver said.
In Your Hands – DOGGIE DOs AND DON’Ts
- Keep your pet dog on a leash and under control when out and about
- If you see a loose dog, please alert your local council
- If you see a working Guide Dog in harness, please give it and its handler space
- Don't pat, feed or otherwise distract a working Guide Dog. A well-intentioned pat can undo months of training.
When approaching a Guide Dog team with your dog, please clearly introduce yourself to the person and say you have a dog with you.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT advocates on behalf of people with impaired vision to ensure the community is a safe, accessible and easy place in which to live and work.
As part of the In Your Hands campaign, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is communicating with local councils and community groups to spread community awareness messaging around this issue and offer free dog leads to targeted groups. Guide Dog speakers will also be travelling around to local schools and community groups to encourage pet owners to keep their dogs on leads. A media and social media campaign will also aim to draw attention to correct Guide Dog etiquette.
In NSW dogs must be under the effective control of a competent person at all times when out in public and penalties apply for failure to comply. Penalties also apply for dog attacks under the Companion Animals Act 1998. For further details, visit https://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/public/dogs-and-cats
ABOUT INTERNATIONAL GUIDE DOG DAY
International Guide Dog Day celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in changing the lives of, and enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to be safe and independent in their communities. International Guide Dog Day is held each year on the last Wednesday of April.
There are currently more than 250 Guide Dog handlers in NSW and the ACT and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is working hard to increase the number of dogs available, due to growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of sight loss.
In March 2018, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT conducted a survey, sent to 250 Guide Dog handlers across NSW and the ACT to identify issues they experience as a result of Guide Dog distractions.
[i] Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Guide Dog Distraction client survey, March 2018.