Blind Essex woman speaks out after attack on her guide dog

A blind woman has described the “frightening” moment a Husky attacked her guide dog in Colchester.

The Guide Dog Association says it is the third dog attack in three months in the town, and has called on Essex Police to improve awareness among its officers about the severity of the offence.

Eve Riches, 42, was walking from North Station to the Colchester Sixth Form College where she teaches psychology on Monday when the attack happened on her guide Jet.

Ms Riches, from Chelmsford, has just 5% tunnel vision and was first alerted to the situation when she heard a dog growling as they passed Kwik Fit in North Station Road.

She looked up to see the Husky stalking towards them with its hackles up, at which point she started screaming for help before the dog tried to bite her guide around the throat.

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Ms Riches tried to kick the Husky away, and in desperation dragged herself and the two dogs into the path of an oncoming bus, the driver of which intervened and managed to separate the animals.

Fortunately Ms Riches former boss came along and was able to help reassure her.

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Ms Riches said: “They say to let go of your dog if attacked, but Jet was going to be killed – he has no fight he is so gentle – or the fight would spill into rush-hour traffic.

“It has been incredibly upsetting. I went straight to work afterwards and an hour later I was still shaking – and I am a very strong, resilient person.

“By the time my friend arrived I was hysterical and sobbing.

“It was such a frightening attack. I thought Jet was going to be killed or horrendously injured, and not being sighted put me at a massive disadvantage, I could hear it and feel it but could not see it.

“I felt very vulnerable.

“But the owner didn’t seem bothered.”

After the attack Ms Riches says she lost confidence in walking that route with Jet, and has resorted to taxis or having her partner drive her to work.

“It is Valentine’s Day at the weekend and I need to go and pick up something for my partner in town, but I’ve agreed not to go out with my dog so have had to borrow a long cane – all a consequence of this irresponsible dog owner,” she added.

“The guide dogs’ work can also suffer as a result. If this had been early in someone’s time as a guide dog owner I could imagine them not wanting to leave the house.”

Other incidents

The latest incident follows two attacks in one day on Terri Sawkin’s guide dog on December 12 in the town, one of which resulted in bite marks that festered and needed treatment by a vet.

Since 2014 an attack on a guide dog has been a criminal offence, as if it were an attack on the handler, rather than the usual civil crime of a dog-on-dog incident.

The Guide Dog Association signed an agreement with Essex Police at the time of the legislation setting out how such crimes should be handled.

But Ms Riches said she came across confusion and misunderstanding from police in the initial days after the attack, which was first recorded as dog-on-dog – a situation Sue Forster, engagement officer at the charity, said was not unusual and also happened in Ms Sawkin’s case.

Ms Forster said: “Colchester has the largest number of guide dog owners in Essex and we have already had one or two telling us they are afraid to go into town in case their dog is attacked. This goes against everything that the Guide Dog’s service is there for.”

An Essex Police spokesman said: “Essex Police takes attacks on assistance dogs seriously and we are disappointed these two victims have had what they feel was an unsatisfactory service from our staff and officers.

“The incidents on December 12 were not reported to us until December 22 which meant investigational opportunities were limited. However we are still investigating and would appeal for anyone who witnessed what happened to come forward. We are also investigating the incident in North Station Road on February 8 and are again appealing for any witnesses to come forward.

“Essex Police signed up to the agreement in 2014 and we will continue to make sure officers and staff are trained appropriately and are reminded how to deal with such incidents which are very distressing for victims.”

How the public can help

Ms Riches said it was also important for the public to understand how they can help those with guide dogs.

“Even if their dog is friendly they let them come up and sniff as if they want to play,” she said.

“But owners should keep their pets away from guide dogs as much as possible, cross the street or keep them on a lead.

“They think Jet can ignore it, but he can’t. He stops, and then I’m stopped on my way to work.

“The pubic are not unkind, they just don’t understand.”

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