Blind woman left too scared to go into Norwich alone after her guide dog is attacked

PC Matt Wakefield walks with Bernie Reddington and her guide dog Ashley.  Picture: Denise Bradley PC Matt Wakefield walks with Bernie Reddington and her guide dog Ashley. Picture: Denise Bradley

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
5:23 PM

A blind woman from Norwich has been left too scared to go into the city centre alone, after her guide dog was attacked.

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Bernie Reddington and her guide dog, Ashley. Picture: Denise BradleyBernie Reddington and her guide dog, Ashley. Picture: Denise Bradley

Bernie Reddington, from Sprowston, was left so shaken by other dogs barking, growling and even attacking her guide dog Ashley, she took the matter to a disability forum.

The issue was then picked up by the city’s police, who agreed to go on a walkabout in Norwich with Mrs Reddington yesterday to experience the problems she faces and talk to those not controlling their dogs.

“I will actively avoid some areas of the city because I know there is going to be trouble with dogs there,” said Mrs Reddington.

“I feel my enjoyment of my own city is being compromised. If Ashley is hurt or put off working, that means the end of my independence.”

Dog attack statistics from Guide Dogs for the Blind:

A total of 240 attacks on guide dogs were reported between March 2011 and February 2013. That is an average of ten attacks a month - an increase since Guide Dogs’ last report in 2012.

Five of the dogs attacked in the period March 2011 – February 2013 have been permanently withdrawn from service, costing Guide Dogs an estimated £171,657. This cost to the charity, which receives no government funding for the guide dogs service, reduces its ability to provide services for blind and partially sighted people.

Guide Dogs’ researchers also found evidence that the bond between a person with sight loss and a guide dog is even stronger than an owner and a pet dog, so an attack can be even more detrimental than on a pet dog, and they can both lose vital confidence and trust - in some cases, never wanting to go out again.

Almost a quarter of the victims attacked in 2011-13 had been attacked before and, of these, 26% had been attacked before by the same aggressor dog – this indicates it is the same irresponsible owners who are causing problems and need to be deterred by robust legislation to make it a prosecutable offence.

Alarmingly, aggressor dogs were not with their owner on 22% of occasions and were with their owner but off the lead on a further 42% of occasions. Allowing dogs to roam alone and out of control demonstrates that the owners don’t have a proper understanding of their responsibilities as a dog owner.

Just before Christmas, Mrs Reddington was walking through the city centre when a dog jumped on Ashley.

She let go of his handle, as she had been taught in training and there was a scrap between the animals.

“The guy who owned the other dog managed to catch him and stuff him in a trolley but I couldn’t carry on with what I was doing,” said Mrs Reddington.

“It’s the most horrible experience when you can’t see what is actually happening. You can’t get into a safe place, you can’t take the dog somewhere safe, but you need the dog to get you to safety.”

She has only once complained to a dog owner whose pet had been aggressive, and that led to a torrent of abuse, so the aim of yesterday’s walkabout was to get the message across that dogs need to be controlled.

Chief Inspector Nathan Clark and PC Matt Wakefield from Bethel Street Police Station accompanied Mrs Reddington and Ashley through the city centre.

They met three dog owners Mrs Reddington encounters regularly along the way - two selling copies of the Big Issue and one begging.

Chief Insp Clark made it clear dogs needed to be kept on leads at all times, while Mrs Reddington explained the effect dogs barking and distracting Ashley had on her and other blind people’s day-to-day life.

“I am pleased we were able to talk to the chaps themselves,” she said.

“Having a good relationship with them can only strengthen how safe and secure we feel in the city.”

Helen Sismore, Community Engagement Officer in East Anglia for Guide Dogs for the Blind, said the problem was on the increase.

“Dog attacks that have been reported through us have increased from eight to ten a month,” she said.

“We are currently waiting for an Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Intervention Bill to get Royal Assent. This would mean dog on dog attacks could potentially lead to the same prison sentence as a dog on person crime.”

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