There are several advantages a “seeing dog” brings for a blind or visually impaired person. One of the major benefits is that it builds confidence in the blind person as they feel more secure with the guide dog at their side. They also become more independent as they can increase their mobility with a guide dog.
Through this partnership, a visually impaired or blind person will be able to live their lives more productively with the help of their trusted furry guide. This can range from being able to commute to a place of work, attend school/college or improve their wellbeing by simply being able to go for a walk – things that most of us can take for granted.
Then there is the devoted companionship that a guide dog will offer them. This not only cuts through the boredom that many blind people suffer but it’s proven to make them less stressed and anxious. There are many occasions I can recall when the dogs in my life have helped me through tough times, from teenage heartache to periods of ill health and personal loss; I’m sure all dog owners have similar stories. I can therefore only imagine what an invaluable support they must be for a blind person.
Guide Dogs usage in the United States
Sadly, there is a desperate shortage of these amazing dogs. There are only around 10,000 guide dog teams operating in the USA according to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
It typically costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and place one guide dog and most organisations that supply them rely totally on public support and donations. The average “working life” of a guide dog is 8 years, so it’s impossible to match continual supply and demand.
A 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) revealed that around 10% of adults in America stated that they were visually impaired even when wearing contact lenses or glasses, or that they could not see at all and were blind. This means around 23.7 million adults in the United States, many for whom a guide dog could literally change their lives.
Impact of Attacks on Guide Dogs by other Dogs
One of the biggest concerns for guide dog teams is the threat of attack or unwanted attention from other dogs. Even for any of us lucky enough to have good vision, an attack on our dog can be frightening but usually relatively straight forward to deal with. This is clearly not the case for a visually impaired or blind person.
For a guide dog team to be safe and efficient it is vital that the guide dog be able to concentrate fully on their work. If other canines distract the guide dog, then the owner and the guide dog are immediately at risk of harm. The owner cannot protect themselves and their guide dog because they don’t have the visual capabilities to do this.
The impact of an attack on a guide dog team can be far reaching, for example:
- It can affect the guide dog’s performance and behavior even if there is no physical injury
- If the guide dog is affected to the point that it cannot work, then the owner will suffer loss of mobility and potentially their own ability to earn a living
- With a physical attack the owner could face medical and veterinary bills for themselves and the guide dog
- Replacement guide dogs are very expensive and not readily available
Guide dog attacks are a serious issue. A Seeing Eye survey of 744 respondents showed:
- 44% of the respondents had been the victims of at least a single attack
- Of this 44%, there were 58% who reported more than one attack
- 83% of the respondents experienced aggressive canine interference
- Sidewalks and roadways were the location for the majority of attacks (80%)
- The number of incidents occurring within 30 minutes walk from home was 74%
- In the severest of cases 3% of guide dogs had to retire and 16% could not work for a while
- 37% of guide dog handlers reported being disorientated temporarily after an attack
Preventing Guide Dog Attacks and Dangerous Distractions
There are a number of things that dog owners can do to help on this front:
- Ensure that your dog is leashed and keep them away from guide dogs at all times
- Tell a blind or visually impaired person that you are approaching and have a dog
- Keep your pooch close to you when near to a guide dog team. Your dog may be really sociable but even saying “hello” to a guide dog will distract them from their very important job.
- Don’t be tempted to pet a guide dog in a harness. Even if the dog is resting without their harness, ask the owner before you pet the dog and don’t get upset if they say “no” – there will undoubtedly be a very good reason!
- Take control of your canine and train them in obedience
- Ensure that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date
- Help out a guide dog and their handler if there is an attack or interference.
- If you see loose dogs in the street try to identify and return them to their owner (if it is safe to do so). Otherwise contact a local shelter to see if they can help out – this will also get any strays into safe hands too.
One of the most disturbing facts revealed in the Seeing Eye survey was the number of dog owners or handlers who had simply walked away after their dog had attacked or interfered with a guide dog, without offering any assistance to the blind person. How could anyone be so callous?
At the end of the day accidents can happen but we must all take responsibility for our pets or canine charges and put things right.
I know as dog lovers it is so hard to resist going over to pet these amazing creatures, but perhaps now we can all do more for them by being an extra set of eyes.
Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team