Kitchen Wench attended an information session at Guide Dogs Victoria as their guest,
however this post was not sponsored or paid for and is being put up in support of this not for profit organisation.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you like dogs, own a dog, are interested in the work of seeing eye dogs or just consider yourself a person who cares about others, then this is some information that you need to know.
Mr Tuna happy and proud to support his furry brethren at Guide Dogs Australia
Anyone who knows me knows that not only am I a crazy dog lady, but that I am also a firm believer in good canine citizenship. Dogs are our constant companions, and the only way that we can protect them and the public is to ensure that we are always in control. Part of this means that when you’re in a public space that does not specifically allow dogs running around free, that they should always be on leash.
“Oh, but Kitchen Wench, my dog is extremely well behaved and always walks at heel”
“I don’t need a lead! My dog does everything that I tell it to!”
“My dog doesn’t need to be on lead because he’s harmless and isn’t a danger to anyone!”
I’m afraid that none of these are acceptable excuses since no dog in the world is 100% predictable 100% of the time. Having your dog off-lead in public spaces means an increased risk that your dog may startle another person or animal, be startled, causes an incident, or is involved in an accident. A leash means that since you are tethered to your animal, you are connected and can communicate even without paying total attention to one another.
Having these sorts of beliefs, when Guide Dogs Victoria reached out to me with an invitation to an information day regarding their “Take the Lead” campaign, I made sure to clear my schedule to attend.
If you’ll indulge me, imagine yourself walking a dog through your local shopping strip and think about all the possible distractions about. People walking all around you while talking, yelling, laughing. Carrying bags full of groceries that all dogs like to sniff. Cars jumping in and out of parking lots. Even other dogs being walked by their owners as they go about their day. These are all sources of stimulation that would make any dog dizzy – yet if you are connected to your dog by a leash, then you can feel when they stop to sniff, bark or even lick an errant chip packet as it rolls by.
These are all sources of stimulation that seeing eye dogs are painstakingly trained to ignore, so they can focus on the task at hand- that of providing their owner with security and independence so they can also take that trip to the shops that the rest of us take for granted.
Now imagine doing this same task, but with a blindfold over your eyes. Instead of guiding your dog through this maze – your dog is guiding you. This dog, who you trust and depend on, who you know has been trained to navigate the maze that is a shopping strip, suddenly stops. You feel her backing up, crying and suddenly cowering and pressing herself against your legs – something has happened to shake her from her usual focus but you can’t see the threat and since you cannot remove yourself from the situation, you and your dog are now both at risk.
While this may seem like an exaggerated situation, the sad fact is that it is anything but. A survey completed by Guide Dogs Australia of more than 220 guide dog handlers has revealed that incidents like this are on the rise, with three guide dogs a MONTH being attacked by other people’s pets while working over the past year.
To make matters worse, 32 respondents reported a combined total of 160 attacks over the past 3 years (yes, that is MULTIPLE attacks per dog) with one guide dog being attacked a total of 15 times.
Of the three guide dogs per month being attacked, they also found that one in four (27%) guide dogs attacked sustained injury, with two even needing to be retired as a result of the trauma.
The most common cause of these attacks? Off-lead pet dogs.
With the organisation only receiving about 30% government funding and a cost of approximately $30,000 to fully train a guide dog, when a dog is taken out of action (whether temporarily or permanently retired due to an attack), not only is it a loss of the donations that have gone towards the training of that animal as well as the time and dedication of the various volunteers who have helped to raise the dog – but their handler is suddenly without the assistance, support and independence that their seeing eye dog provided them with.
In short, the effects to the dog, the organisation and handler can be quite overwhelming.
You see, even for a dog temporarily out of action, there are ongoing ramifications that must be dealt with. In extreme cases there are vet bills and rehabilitation so that the dog can recover, but also the time that it takes to retrain the animal so that it can regain its confidence while on the job can be quite substantial. Because even the distraction of your pet dog startling, barking or even trying to sniff or lick a seeing-eye dog at work as their handler is crossing a busy road is a situation that could result in serious consequences for both the handler and their animal.
And to think that so much of this could be prevented by members of the public just making sure that their pet dogs are on-lead when they’re out and about with them.
So the next time that you set out with your faithful canine companion in tow, please make sure that they are wearing their leash. Because it just seems silly not to do something so simple, when it improves the safety of all the wonderful seeing-eye dogs hard at work out there, as well as the handlers that depend on them.
Oh, and it would make Mr Tuna and his new guide dogs friends grateful and keep these goofy smiles on their furry faces