Essex: Guide dogs attacked in county as Clacton MP Douglas Carswell and charities support new educational campaign
17:43 22 August 2014
An Essex MP has backed a new campaign warning of the threats dangerous dogs pose when not muzzled or under control after a number of guide dogs were attacked in the county.
A Clacton wheelchair user has spoken of his “shock” after his guide dog was attacked by an unmuzzled dog, insisting it was just one of many incidents which have left vulnerable people scared of going out for a walk in some areas of the town.
Clacton MP Douglas Carswell was joined by a guide dog charity in condemning the attack – and vowed to raise the issue in Parliament to help gain support for a new initiative educating owners of dangerous dogs of the responsibilities they have.
Sue Rowen, community engagement officer at Guide Dogs for the Blind, told how another guide dog in Clacton was attacked in May by two dogs, “neither of which was properly controlled by their handler”.
The guide dogs in both incidents escaped serious injuries, but a guide dog in Basildon required veterinary treatment after a similar attack this year.
New Government legislation announced in May ruled that irresponsible dog owners who allow their dogs to attack people or guide dogs will face tougher prison sentences.
Anyone convicted following a fatal dog attack now faces a 14-year jail term, up from two years.
And for the first time, the Dangerous Dogs Act includes a specific offence to protect assistance dogs from attacks. The maximum prison sentence is three years if a guide dog is attacked.
Mr Carswell said: “There is absolutely no excuse for someone’s dog attacking a guide dog. If you own a dog you need to take responsibility, and if you cannot control it then put a muzzle on it.
“Guide dogs are absolutely essential – they allow people who have very restricted ability to enjoy much more independent lives.
“If the guide dogs want to launch a campaign then I would be happy to head it in Parliament. I would hope to get broad support for an organisation which provides great help to vulnerable people.”
Nationally, 10 guide dogs are attacked every month.
Wheelchair-bound Barry O’Connell, of Pier Avenue, Clacton, described the moment Guy, his seven-year-old flat-coated retriever which has been his guide dog for five years, was attacked.
“We had just got round the corner when a dog shot at Guy like a guided missile,” he said.
“I was lucky I was able to spin my chair round and put the dog on my blind side to protect him. It was shocking. The man rushed in and pulled his dog away.
“Dangerous dogs have got to be controlled. This is happening in our streets and at the seaside. People have got to understand guide dogs are our eyes, limbs and arms. They need to be protected.”
Mrs Rowen said charities including the Guide Dogs for the Blind are now joining forces with police forces and local authorities to help run educational workshops designed to encourage pet owners to improve their safety measures.
She said: “Dog attacks have a devastating impact on the partnership between the guide dog and its owner. It can lead to it breaking down.
“It takes a brave person to trust a dog and these attacks erode their confidence.”