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Attacks on guide dogs by other dogs leaves scars, setbacks for owners

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 8:04 p.m. MDT

Guide dog Sanborn stands as his owner Brad Badger talks Thursday, April 19, 2012 about the recent attack on Sanborn by another dog.

Matt Powers , Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Two recent dog-on-dog attacks against guide dogs in Utah have prompted warnings that such attacks have far-reaching impacts on the specially trained animals and the people they help.

The attacks left guide dogs in Weber County and Davis County unnerved and with injuries.

"You need to be really careful with them because you don't ever know when it could be a guide dog," said Brad Badger of Bountiful.

Badger was walking along 200 West near 1200 North on Saturday morning with Sanborn, his guide dog of 7 years, when two dogs got loose from a nearby property. Sanborn said one of the dogs — a pit bull — attacked Sanborn.

The pit bull's owner, according to Badger, quickly rushed to the scuffle and pried his dog away. Sanborn suffered three puncture wounds to his ear.

"That's the concern is after an occurrence like this they could be psychologically rattled," Badger said. "But he seems to be doing fine."

He is urging other dog owners to stay on top of their pets — particularly when the animals are aggressive.

Patti Ehle of Ogden is offering additional advice — keeping pets at a significant distance from service animals when they are in sight.

On March 25, Ehle was on 29th Street near the east bench when a couple of passing dogs bit her guide dog, Sonoma. The golden retriever has subsequently suffered infections and a rash. Ehle said Thursday her dog has only been well enough to guide her on four occasions since the attack.

"This is really impactful on many levels," Ehle said.

Patty Mueller is a longtime guide dog owner based in Riverton and is now an advocate who has started "Greatest Paws on Earth," which she describes as an "alumni" chapter of guide dog owners in the state. Mueller said many times guide dogs suffer severe enough physical and psychological damage that they have to be retired.

Fully training a new guide dog is costly both in terms of time and money. Mueller said the two years of training runs in the $50,000-$80,000 range. Costs are often offset to varying degrees by charitable donations.

The toll on the guide dog user is often significant.

"When the dog gets taken out by a dog attack — if they get hurt or injured — then it takes them time to heal, so that puts the person, the user, out of commission for a while."

Badger said Sanborn assists him as he walks his son to school, or as he walks to the gym, or goes for a bagel, or completes countless other tasks.

"He's pretty much my vehicle to get where I need to go once I leave the house," Badger said. "Without him I'm not as easily able to go and function."

In Sanborn's case, Davis County Animal Services director Clint Thacker confirmed the pit bull's owner was handed a notice of violation for no license and no rabies shot. The owner, according to investigators, was not cited for the attack because of his actions to separate the animals.

Badger said he was very pleased with how the owner reacted. He said he expressed remorse for his dog's attack and has offered to pay for all medical expenses for Sanborn.

Ehle said she filed a police report related to her dog's attack. She said she did not get the owner's name and does not know where he went.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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