A CHARITY is warning guide dog owners to be on their guard following a shocking incident where someone tried to snatch a woman’s support dog from her in a busy city shopping centre.
The incident, which took place last week in a Peterborough shopping centre, left the wheelchair-bound woman shaken.
She was approached by an individual who tried to unclip the dog’s lead but the owner bravely wrestled with the culprit and managed to keep hold of the dog, until the would-be thief ran away.
Now, the District Team Manager of Guide Dogs East Anglia Peter Smith and police are urging all clients to keep a firm grip on their dog’s leash when out and about.
Although he pointed out that incidents of this nature were rare, Mr Smith said it was vital that people exercised extra caution.
Mr Smith also revealed that blind people had been approached by people and asked openly about how much their dog was worth.
He said: ‘It was reported to me by Assistance Dogs UK, the umbrella organisation covering groups such as Dogs for the Disabled and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
‘This sort of incident is very uncommon. It’s the first one that came to my attention and it was on my patch so I thought I should advise my clients that if people approach them, don’t be worried but just keep a tighter hold on the dog’s lead.
‘I felt it was prudent to pass this on to clients, not to frighten them, but just to make them aware of it. A person who does this doesn’t really have very high morals or any empathy with other people’s situations. They are just focused on the financial reward. Dogs are invaluable to handlers.’
Community beat police sergeant for Peterborough city centre Sergeant Mick Thorpe said: ‘Any theft is upsetting, but more so when it involves a family pet or a dog which acts as a lifeline to someone.
‘Although thefts of this nature are rare, we urge any dog owners to always ensure they keep a tight hold of the leash and know where their dog is.’
Neil Ewart of Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, who is also Chairman of the campaign group Dog Theft Action commented: ''This is a particularly nasty incident and anyone who has an Assistance Dog or is involved in their training should be aware that, in this day and age, no one seems to be immune from the risk of their dog being stolen. This also applies to our puppies at walk and dogs actually in training. Because any Assistance dog needs to have an excellent temperament and display no guarding instinct they can be quite vulnerable.
‘Dog Theft Action has published a leaflet entitled Recommended Security measures for Assistance Dogs which is approved by all the major assistance dogs organisations. We urge all the organisations to make their clients aware of these recommendations, especially in the light of this latest worrying incident.’