Today is International Guide Dogs Day and if you’re around Melbourne CBD today you will see Guide Dogs Victoria participating in an awareness event and walk with their Guide Dogs through Federation Square, to get the message out about Guide Dog etiquette and what (and what not!) to do if you come across a Guide Dog on the job.
Last Wednesday I attended the Take the Lead Blogger event hosted by Guide Dogs Victoria to learn about proper Guide Dog etiquette and how we the public, can help these dogs best look after their visually impaired owners.
Myself and various bloggers including Kevin and Cynder from That Dog Dancing Guy and their dogs from Melbourne arrived at Guide Dogs Victoria and were treated to a picnic presentation in which we got to hear first hand from a visually impaired speaker about what it was like one day for her Guide Dog to be attacked while out on the job.
“When Dora was attacked at our local park, it left me feeling extremely vulnerable and the attack had a big impact on my day to day life. Following the incident Dora had to undergo rehabilitation as she became withdrawn and hesitant around other dogs and even going outside.
“Thankfully she’s made a full recovery, and I am very grateful she is still by my side – for some Guide Dogs an attack like the one we experienced could result in early retirement.
“I can’t emphasise enough the safety threat off-lead dogs can pose to Guide Dog and their handler, and how important it is for dog owners to keep their pets on a lead.”
Unfortunately for some there is this perception that just because the Guide Dog is well behaved and well socialised, they can deal with any dog rushing up to them off leash and not react. The ramifications can be catastrophic with some dogs being retired from service after attacks suffering from trauma and not being able to apply their training anymore as a result.
There are some pretty sad statistics that Guide Dogs Victoria have released on the prevalence of this. 34% of blind or vision impaired Victorian Guide Dog handlers have had their Guide Dogs attacked while working, with an average of one Guide Dog attacked in Victoria every month. More so it’s off-lead pet dogs who a responsible for 84% of incidents.
After hearing those statistics I was shocked – I had no idea! But the more they talked the more I realised we need to create awareness and educate on what we can do to stop this from happening. We were then treated to watching some gorgeous Guide Dog puppies in training go through some exercises – including the challenge of climbing stairs for the first time! Some were confident and were up and over no problems, but there were a few that only got a couple of steps up before balking and backing down.
We spent time talking to the foster carers who look after these puppies and train them for the first year of their lives to become Guide Dogs. We really got to hear first hand how much work goes into these dogs, so anything we can do to aid in that behaviour and protect the dogs while out on the job is so appreciated.
In a great move, Guide Dogs Victoria, together with Guide Dogs organisations nationally, is participating in the launch of a new public education campaign, Take the Lead, calling on the country’s dog owners to ensure their pet dogs are always walked on a lead in the name of responsible pet ownership. I totally support this message, and while I think dogs need to be able to run (Kate is a kelpie – she NEEDS to run!) ensuring you run them in off leash areas is the way to go. We like to ride our bikes with Kate as we can go further and faster meaning she gets an adequate run in. Kate and Scooter from Fitdog 101 – Paws and Pedals have mastered the technique of cycling with a dog on leash so check them out for pointers!
Essentially we need to take some responsibility while out with our dogs and allow Guide Dogs to best do their job – protecting and guiding their owners. “Guide Dogs play a vital role in enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to get around independently. Attacks compromise this independence and can cause serious injury and trauma to both the guide dog and its handler. In rare serious cases, attacks can result in premature retirement of a Guide Dog, which costs more than $30,000 to train,” said Guide Dogs Victoria CEO, Karen Hayes. “We’re encouraging dog owners to take the lead to help create a safe community not just for Guide Dogs and their handlers but for everyone.”
Kate and I will be Taking the Lead for these amazing dogs, I encourage you to do the same!
For more information check out the Guide Dogs Victoria website