Woman and guide dog attacked by off-lead dogs at Canberra bus interchange
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Woman and guide dog attacked by off-lead dogs at Canberra bus interchange

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has lashed out at people who let their dogs run off-leash after two dogs attacked a woman and her guide dog at a Canberra bus interchange.

Pamela*, who is almost blind, was forced to fend off the attacking animals last Thursday night while walking along East Row in Civic.

Regional manager of Guide Dogs ACT/NSW Patrick Shaddock says unleashed dogs pose a significant threat to people with blindness or vision-impairment.

Regional manager of Guide Dogs ACT/NSW Patrick Shaddock says unleashed dogs pose a significant threat to people with blindness or vision-impairment.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

"As it started getting dark I relied on my guide dog to show me the way because I can't see anything in the dark and then suddenly these two dogs were just on us, one on my right side, one on the left side of my dog," Pamela said.

With the help of another woman Pamela managed to push off the dogs and flee to the other end of the block, where she called police. Incredibly, she and her guide dog escaped serious harm.

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It is the third time Pamela's guide dog has been attacked by an off-leash dog, which Guide Dogs NSW/ACT regional manager Patrick Shaddock described as "shocking".

"[Blind and vision-impaired people] are vulnerable and they can't escape the situation and often they aren't even able to identify what's going on in front of them, which would be incredibly scary," Mr Shaddock said.

While attacks were rare but not unheard of, Mr Shaddock said guide dogs being distracted by off-lead dogs and people happened daily.

"Having a dog off-lead is an immediate distraction to the guide dog and puts the handler at risk of having an accident. Depending on where the distraction occurs there could be a major injury or even death, especially if a road crossing is involved," Mr Shaddock said.

"The second effect is that guide dogs will start to become more distractible around pet dogs in the future, even when those pet dogs are on leads or behind fences. In extreme cases this can actually lead to the premature retirement of the guide dog, they just become so distractible over time they're unable to work safely any more.

"The third effect, this is if the guide dog was attacked is that the dog can develop a fear of the area and then be unable to return to working in that environment. So for the client whose dog was attacked the other day, that dog may not be able to return to that area and work safely. This is something we're going to have to work through with the client."

It costs more than $35,000 of publicly-donated money to breed, raise and train a guide dog. The early retirement of that guide dog meant that investment was wasted, Mr Shaddock said.

"It's also very hard for the person who received the guide dog after they spent so much time developing a bond," he said.

Rangers seized the dogs that attacked Pamela's guide dog and a joint Transport Canberra and City Services and ACT Policing is under way.

*Surname withheld at request of victim

How to approach a guide dog and its handler

  • Give a guide dog and its handler space
  • Don't pat, feed or distract the dog when it is working
  • Don't grab the person or the dog's harness
  • If giving assistance, walk on the opposite side to the guide dog
  • Keep your pet dog on a leash and under control when out and about

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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