Attacks on Assistance Dogs
As of 13th May 2014, the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 made amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The Act made two key amendments, firstly that the law is now extended to encompass dangerous dogs in private as well as public places; secondly that the law extends to provisions to cases where injury is caused to assistance dogs (whether or not any person is injured).
The definition of an "assistance dog" includes dogs trained to guide a blind person, assist a deaf person, or assist a disabled person. As such, such attacks have an important equality angle as far as the welfare and quality of life of a vulnerable and disabled member of the public is concerned. An injury to an assistance dog can result in the dog being removed from service either temporarily whilst it recovers, or permanently if the injury is so severe it has a long lasting impact so that the dog must be retired.
Any time without a dog that has undergone intensive and specific training limits the freedom of the assisted person. This is compounded by the impact such an attack can have in reducing the assisted person's sense of safety. In addition, the financial cost of training an assistance dog often means that those whose dogs are retired face a long wait for another, further limiting their ability to live independently.
In some cases, an attack on an assistance dog may be perceived as a hate incident or crime if the owner deliberately provokes an attack on an assistance dog. The Act makes it an offence to own or be in charge of a dog that attacks an assistance dog. An attack on an assistance dog is regarded as an aggravated offence with a maximum punishment of 3 years in prison.
Guide Dogs Service Level Agreement
Guide dogs owners whose dogs have been attacked can now access enhanced support as a result of a Service Level Agreement agreed between the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, West Yorkshire Police and Guide Dogs.
The Guide Dogs Leeds Mobility team have been working with West Yorkshire Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, to implement a Service Level Agreement that recognises the devastating impact an attack on an assistance dog has on their owner's life.
The Force have committed to taking steps such as:
- Ensuring that incidents are treated much more seriously than a dog-on-dog attack
- Assigning a named officer to the case, recording the victim as vulnerable, and tailoring investigations around their individual needs.
- In conjunction with Guide Dogs, ensuring that the full impact of the attack on the guide dog and their owner is taken into account when formulating charging decisions.
Whilst the Service Level Agreement has been convened with the Guide Dogs organization specifically, the legislation relating to attacks also applies to all assistance dogs. Assistance dogs also support owners who are hearing-impaired, with epilepsy, autism, or children who may require an assistance dog to assist in their emotional development.