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Guide dog still being harassed

A GUIDE dog that was attacked by another dog whilst working is continuing to run the gauntlet of uncontrolled dogs in its local area – a situation that is becoming more frequent with other assistance dogs across the country.

As reported last issue, black Labrador ‘Monty’ owned by Christine Cheal from Hooe, was attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier whilst she was working him in-harness in Plymouth city centre one day in October last year.

The other dog was on a lead but its female owner had difficulty pulling the dog away from Monty, until members of the public helped out. Christine fell to the ground in the struggle.

Luckily, neither she nor Monty was physically injured but this was only the beginning of her problems. When she and her sighted husband Brian later attempted to make a perfectly legitimate complaint to Devon and Cornwall police to take some kind of action against the SBT’s owner they were allegedly met with official ‘stonewalling’ of the worst kind.

After writing to the Chief Constable, the couple were visited some three weeks later by an Inspector Pope who discussed the incident with them and attempted to explain why the local police had not pursued the matter more vigorously.

One of the arguments advanced by Inspector Pope for the reluctance of the police to take the action that Christine Cheal requested – i.e. muzzling the offending dog and excluding it from the city centre under the terms of the Dangerous Dogs Act or the Dogs Act 1871 - was that the Act had to be applied equally to all UK citizens otherwise they (the police) might be in breach of the EU Human Rights Act if 'special treatment' were allowed for a blind person.

He also stated that it was 'normal' procedure for the police not to take action if a person was not injured - in spite of the fact that Section 3 of the DDA is quite specific that a person need only be in fear of attack or ‘apprehensive’ for the law to be applied, as indeed it has been in numerous other DDA and 1871 cases. According the Mr Cheal, Inspector Pope also suggested that it would be usual for the police to gather evidence of other incidents relating to the dog in question and that "magistrates would be reluctant to convict for a first offence".

Inspector Pope’s assertion does not hold up to numerous similar cases where dogs have been convicted for first offences or where there is a total lack of evidence suggesting that the dog has a history of aggression.

Philip Alder of DEFRA’s Animal Division wrote in reply to a letter from Mr Cheal effectively dismissing Inspector Pope’s arguments, citing both the DDA and the 1871 Dogs Act, together with other related legislation, which dealt effectively with all such attacks. In answer to Mr Cheal’s question as to whether there was any supplementary guidance issued to the police and magistrates on dealing with attacks on working Guide Dogs, and if not whether there are any plans to address this, Mr Alder replied that a significant amount of guidance had been issued to the police and the courts since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was implemented, the intention of that guidance being to assist the police and the courts in understanding and using the legislation effectively.

"The legislation applies equally to any owner/keeper whose dog may have become dangerously out of control," wrote Mr Alder. "The application of the legislation to individual cases must be down to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts."

To almost add insult to injury, Christine Cheal has also recently experienced problems with an unaccompanied Boxer/Mastiff cross which often roams freely in the area where the Cheals live with no owner in sight.

Brian Cheal told OUR DOGS: "I have witnessed this dog attack another dog and we also know a disabled person whose assistance dog has also been attacked by this dog. Christine and Monty were circled by this dog recently in an area where she was completely on her own and whilst there was no attack on Monty, Christine felt upset enough to want the matter reported to the police. I subsequently did this but in spite of the police receiving many complaints about this dog we were unable to even get the matter reported as a crime. The officer I spoke to insisted that no crime had been committed because no one was hurt and that they ‘don't do dog incidents’. Further investigation led me to the local authority dog wardens who also had a long list of complaints about this dog and have already visited the owner on numerous occasions. Indeed the warden responsible for our area was so concerned about this dog she positively encouraged us to push for police action but ultimately, the police put it to Christine that unless she was prepared to identify the dog in a line-up of five other Boxer/Mastiff crosses there was nothing they could do!"

Mr Cheal feels that this latest incident underlines just how unclear the law is with so-called 'lower level' incidents and demonstrates the clear need for the related agencies that become involved with the matter to be clarified - especially the role of the police and magistrates.
"Given the past history of this dog - amply recorded by both Plymouth City Council dog wardens and previously brought to the attention of the police - I see no reason why an agency like a Council Environment Health Dept should not be able to bring action against the owner of a dog itself," says Mr Cheal. "This would certainly relieve someone like Christine of having to go through an onerous identification process. Of course, this would need the cooperation of both the police and magistrates - which appears to be sadly lacking at the moment. We were advised by the police to report the matter to the RSPCA. Is this an RSPCA issue of animal neglect? I think not - the dog appears to me to be well fed and cared for. The issue here is one of the owner not recognising the full responsibilities that come with owning a dog."

Jill Allen-King, MBE, the Chair of the European Blind Union Commission on Mobility and Guide Dogs has experienced similar problems herself over the years and feels that the situation is becoming worse.

"I’ve had five guide dogs myself and have had problems with so many dogs that have been allowed to wander or stray on their own, My first guide dog was pestered for 10 years by a neighbour’s dog and this can really un-nerve you and cause you to lose confidence with the work you do with your dog.

"Some people walk very close to you with their yappy dogs and this is so unnecessary. My third guide dog was taken out of service after three years because another dog attacked her. If ever another dog came near her afterwards, she was aggressive to them, which is no good for a working guide dog, so she had to be withdrawn by the GDBA. Most dog owners are responsible people, but some people just don’t care and let their dogs roam."

Mrs Allen-King continues: "We expect support from the police and dog wardens. I have chaired the Committee on Mobility and Guide Dogs and I know David Blunkett the Home Secretary. If anyone should understand these issues, he should, having a guide dog himself. Pavement laws have been made thanks to our deliberations, but then it’s down to Chief Constables to enforce it or not. It certainly isn’t due to a lack of manpower or lack of resources, it’s how those resources are used and that decision is taken at local level."

OUR DOGS would be interested to hear from anyone whose Assistance Dog has been attacked or obstructed in the course of its duties by another dog or human beings, together with details of any contact made with the authorities and their response afterwards.
Please write to Nick Mays, Chief Reporter at the usual editorial address, or by fax on: 0161 236 0892 or e-mail: ChiefReporter@aol.com