Blind guide dog owner speaks out about ‘terrifying’ incident in Ipswich

Emma Free with her guide dog Ivy. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Emma Free with her guide dog Ivy. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A woman suffering severe sight problems has spoken of the “terrifying” moment a dangerously out of control pet came tearing towards her guide dog.

Mother-of-two Emma Free was so frightened she was unable to leave her home for four weeks after the greyhound escaped its lead and bounded down Suffolk Street, Ipswich, toward her.

Although the greyhound did not make physical contact with Emma or her dog Ivy, in any way, she describes the incident as “terrifying”.

Emma has a degenerative eye condition that has taken almost all of her vision. She relies on her beloved Ivy for the independence she values so highly.

She said: “You have to understand, I couldn’t see anything that was going on. The noise of the dog had shocked me and I’d dropped Ivy’s lead and fallen. I didn’t know where Ivy was. I could just hear growling and aggression. That dog could have been ripping lumps out of Ivy for all I knew.”

This week, Emma appeared in court at the trial of Jane Southall, the greyhound’s owner.

The court heard that during a pause in Jane and her dog’s walk, a clasp had malfunctioned, letting the greyhound loose.

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Jane was charged with owning a dangerously out of control dog and made to pay a total of £930.

Emma said: “People donate money to train service dogs.

“If Ivy had been injured or made too anxious to do her job properly, she’d have been taken away from me.

“Then it could be another two years before I get another. And what do I do then? Having Ivy allows me to pick my children up from school, allows me to do the shopping, meet a friend for coffee. Things people take for granted.

“Ivy means my husband can work full time and doesn’t have to spend his days helping me.

“It costs more than £50,000 to train a guide dog. People don’t donate thinking that the dogs will be out of a job in a few years.”

Emma, who says her condition feels like a curtain was slowly drawn over her eyes, said: “It’d be great if people could just speak to me if they’re out with their dogs.

“Communcation is so essential. Just say, ‘I have my dog with me, she’s a bit noisy but she’s on a lead and won’t come near you’.

“It makes such a difference to how you react and cause so much less panic. It’s a little thing but it would make a big difference.”

Attacks could mean jail term

In March 2014 the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act was passed after a campaign led by Guide Dogs UK.

This law means allowing your dog to attack an assistance

dog is treated as an

aggravated offence with penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment.

Suffolk Police’s dog legislation officer PC Emma Grovener said: “An attack on

a service dog does not have to mean physical injury. It is any instance where there is the apprehension of harm.

“Often we find if a dog isn’t well socialised and doesn’t like other dogs, a dog in a harness like a service dog, makes them worse.

“If a dog is growling, barking, off the lead or being aggressive, that, of course could make a blind person feel as though they were in a very dangerous situation.

“We want to reach a stage where we aren’t prosecuting dog owners, and that people know how to be responsible pet owners and how to act around service dogs.”