Guide dogs are an ever-important part of the lives of those who need them. They serve as the eyes of their humans. And sometimes they even risk their own lives to protect their owners. These dogs often wear little vests asking for space or to not be pet. However, there are times when those requests go unheeded.
The United Kingdom has seen an increase in reported dog attacks (defined as “when a dog sets upon another dog in a forceful, violent, hostile or aggressive way, involving physical conduct”) on guide dogs over the last five years, according to a study reported on by Phys.org. Using data gleaned from the charity organization Guide Dogs (every guide dog in the United Kingdom is supported by this charity), researchers from Guide Dogs and the University of Nottingham took a close look at the characteristics of these attacks, what impact the attacks had on the dog and the owner and the financial implications the charity faced due to the attacks, according to Phys.org.
Characteristics Of The Attacks
The study, published in the journal Veterinary Record, found that of the 4,900 working guide dogs in the United Kingdom, there were 629 reported attacks between 2010 and 2015. Of those attacks, 97 percent happened in public, 55 percent of the dogs who were attacked were wearing a harness and 77 percent of the aggressive dogs’ owners were present during the attack, according to Phys.org. In 2010, the average was three attacks per month. By 2015, that number had risen to 11 attacks per month.
“The guide dog harness is designed to be visible and should have been apparent to the owners of aggressors who were present,” the study’s authors stated, according to Phys.org. “It is feasible that a proportion of these attacks could have been avoided if the aggressor was put on a lead when the owner saw the guide dog in harness.”
The study found that 19 percent of the attacks were described as unprovoked, 22 percent as being caused by the aggressor dog and 29 percent caused by a lack of control, according to Phys.org. It is unclear how the remaining 30 percent of attacks were classified.
Impacts Of The Attacks
Of the dogs who were attacked, 20 of them were permanently removed from the Guide Dogs program as a result of the attacks, 40 percent of them experienced a negative impact and less than 20 percent of them couldn’t work for a period of time, Phys.org reports. The attacks resulted in puncture wounds to the guide dogs, and 76 percent of the dogs received veterinary care.
The dogs, however, were not the only ones that suffered injuries. Physical injuries were present in 13.8 percent of owners, almost half of which needed medical attention. Guide dog owners also experienced anxiety and reported feeling shaken and upset.
The Guide Dogs organization itself also suffered a setback as a result of the attacks. The organization had to pay out around $50,044 USD (£34,514.30) in veterinary costs. Because 13 guide dogs were removed from the program due to the attacks, Guide Dogs also experienced a financial setback of $869,970 (£600,000), according to Phys.org.
The study does not reveal if the increase is reflective of more reports made of the attacks or of an actual increase in attacks. However, it does conclude that the impact “for the guide dog owners of these dogs are likely to be long-term and complex affecting not only their mobility and physical health, but also their social and emotional well-being.”