OREM — College student Karen Patterson almost lost her eyes to a pit bull terrier this weekend.

The pit bull didn't touch Patterson, who is blind, but he mauled her guide dog, Jayla, whom Patterson fondly calls her "eyes."

Jayla, a yellow Labrador retriever, may never be the same.

"I think the owners should have taken a little bit more responsibility," Patterson said Monday from her Orem apartment. "People who own an aggressive breed need to be aware that they have a great responsibility to keep it under control and on a leash. I'm a little bit angry."

That's understandable because Jayla was more than a pet to Patterson. The dog suffered a flesh wound to her left shoulder that required stitches but should heal within three weeks. Jayla's mental state is another matter, since some guide dogs never regain their emotional stability and can't perform adequately after an attack.

The pit bull was put to sleep Monday, and its owner was cited with owning a vicious animal and having a dog running at large, Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards said.

Patterson was taking Jayla for a walk Saturday near 1500 S. Main when she heard someone calling after a dog. Suddently, Jayla was under attack.

"Just the sound of the pit bull, I thought it was going to totally rip (Jayla) up," Patterson said. "I was afraid it would let go of her and turn on me."

The pit bull had been playing in an unfenced yard with its owner before the attack occurred. The dog's owner pulled it off Jayla immediately after the attack.

Patterson said she began walking home with her injured dog before someone told her Jayla was bleeding. The owner of the pit bull then gave Patterson a ride home. She said she was still shaking with fear at 11 p.m.

"I consider my dog a little bit more than just a pet, because I can't function without her," Patterson said. "She's my eyes."

Patterson was born with an eye disease that has resulted in night blindness (she can't see in the dark), a loss of peripheral vision and blurred vision.

Jayla helps her catch the bus to Utah Valley State College and guides her to classes.

Jayla is Patterson's first guide dog, and she had hoped the dog would be the last. Jayla has been with Patterson for three years, and most guide dogs live for eight to 10 years.

Now, Patterson's not sure how much longer Jayla will be with her. Once the dog heals, its skills will be evaluated by a field representative for guide dogs or by Patterson herself.

Patterson is a senior at UVSC majoring in psychology, and she hopes to pursue a post-graduate degree at the University of Utah to learn how to teach others to read Braille. Those plans are on hold until Jayla recovers.

"It would be really upsetting for me to have to get another dog. I'm so attached to Jayla it would be hard getting used to another dog," she said.

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Because Jayla is always on a leash in public, it's hard for Patterson to understand why the pit bull roamed free. She remembers how cautious her parents were with the Doberman pinscher dogs they had during her childhood. She says such caution is necessary with dogs that can become aggressive.

Pit bulls have become more popular in recent years, despite warnings that the dogs can attack other animals, strangers and even their owners. Several lawmakers have sponsored legislation trying to ban pit bulls from their cities.


E-MAIL: jhyde@desnews.com