This week, we published shocking research revealing that the number of attacks on guide dogs by other dogs has more than doubled in the space of 14 months.
Our findings provoked an incredible amount of coverage, and there have since been some developments which I wanted to share with you. As a direct result of our research, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) renewed its call for compulsory microchipping on Monday, adding weight to the argument and bringing the topic into a new sphere of debate.
Lord Henley, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Animal Welfare Minister, has also promised to visit our Campaigns Team's stand at the Conservative Party Conference early next month to talk about the issue.
There is much to discuss. The last piece of research on attacks on guide dogs in June 2010 found an average of three attacks a month, which we considered three too many. So you can imagine how we felt to learn that by August this year, the number had jumped to an average of seven a month.
Every single attack has a devastating effect on the person and guide dog concerned. The physical injuries can be horrific, and I am amazed that I haven't heard of a guide dog being killed, or that a guide dog owner hasn't been more seriously hurt.
But the mental scars can run much deeper, with some dogs unable to continue their vital job of being a blind or partially sighted person's eyes. The owners not only lose their mobility aid, and therefore their independence, but also their companion with whom they have formed the strongest of bonds. And that's without mentioning the lost costs to Guide Dogs of breeding, training and looking after a guide dog.
So what do we want to see?
We want an attack on a guide dog to be treated as seriously as an attack on the guide dog owner themselves, with incidences followed up and prosecutions brought. It is disappointing to learn that police forces do not seem to realise the gravity of these attacks, even though I wrote to all Chief Constables in June 2010 asking them to safeguard our guide dog owners.
We want compulsory microchipping for all dogs in England and Wales, and we're not alone. Both Guide Dogs and the BVA are members of the Microchipping Alliance, with other members including Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, the RSPCA and Cats Protection, to name but a few.
We want to encourage responsible dog ownership and for the authorities to have the power to punish those who do not microchip their animals.
Only once these steps are taken might we find our guide dog attack figures falling.
You can help us too by raising the issue of guide dog attacks with your MP. It couldn't be easier - send them an online letter about this shocking problem.
- Richard Leaman, Guide Dogs Chief ExecutiveMore Articles by Guide Dogs for the Blind Association ...