Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Case calls attention to vicious-dog law

Guide dog Sparky stands firm during attack by another canine

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ted Chism at his Clifton home with his guide dog, Sparky, 3.
(Leigh Patton photo)
| ZOOM |
CLIFTON - Ted Chism can't see very well. That's why he has Sparky. The retired social worker and the yellow Labrador retriever were on their way home Sunday evening from their regular walk to Clifton Elementary School when a bulldog - possibly a pit bull - tore through its leash and attacked Sparky.

The 80-pound guide dog is OK after treatment at an emergency veterinary clinic, where they shaved wide swaths around bites on his right front leg and around his right ear. On painkillers and antibiotics, he spent much of Monday afternoon sacked out on the carpet and, literally, licking his wounds.

The attack comes at a time when Cincinnati is about to stiffen the penalties for harboring vicious dogs, and Chism said he hopes the incident makes people think a little more about controlling their animals.

"It's like attacking me," Chism said Monday. "He's my eyes."

Chism, who is legally blind since childhood from a congenital retinal disease, is worried about the future. Sometimes, guide dogs can be traumatized enough by even a relatively minor incident that they can't work, according to Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc., where Sparky was bred and trained.

If Sparky would become afraid of dogs, he couldn't be trusted to safely guide Chism around the city anymore.

Chism, 66, isn't sure how long the attack lasted. Probably only about 30 seconds, he said, "but it seemed like forever" until the dog's owners - they were nearby - stopped the attack. Other passersby stopped to help too.

"I was yelling, Get your dog off! Get your dog off!" Chism said.

Chism has a bit of peripheral vision, and he said he thinks the other dog bit Sparky on the leg first, then held on at his ear. Sparky didn't bolt.

"His job was to stay with me, and he did," he said.

Working dogs aren't trained to protect their masters, said Joanne Ritter, spokeswoman for the Guide Dogs agency - they're trained to guide them. And they are allowed to defend themselves, she said, but often attacks like this happen so quickly it's difficult for the masters and dogs to know what to do.

Chism said he felt terrible for the dog, who has become a trusted friend and near-constant companion. Sparky follows the blind man around his Clifton house, even when he's not working.

Cincinnati police were still working on the case Monday. A report on the incident was not available, but Chism said Officer Sabreen Robinson, who responded Sunday, told him the owner of the other dog would be cited for failing to control the animal. .

Chism and his wife, who came up the street to help after Sparky was bitten, said the other dog appeared to be a pit bull, though they said its owners described it as an American bulldog.

The city's stricter ordinance against vicious dogs goes into effect Nov. 1.

It bans pit bulls from the city limits, and says a dog can be determined to be a pit bull if a veterinarian, zoologist or animal control officer says it is. Only pit bulls registered before Nov. 1 can stay in the city. Anyone caught violating the ordinance will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

For a few days, Sparky will be somewhat relieved of his guiding duties and allowed to relax and recover. The guide dog association told Chism to ease him back to work slowly.

If necessary, Guide Dogs for the Blind will send someone to Cincinnati to work with Sparky, Ritter said, and - in the worst case - will come get Sparky and take him back to California for some re-training.

Chism hopes that isn't necessary. He and Sparky have been together 15 months.

When visitors come to Chism's house, he shows off the "baby book'' of pictures taken by the couple who volunteered to raise Sparky until he was ready for training: Sparky in a plastic baby pool. Sparky asleep on the linoleum. Sparky in a lake. Sparky at the beach.

Sparky, after he got home from the hospital Monday morning, got lots of his favorite treat: carrots.

"It was the most helpless feeling in the world - just standing there while he was yowling," Chism said. "He's trained to be docile. He's trained, really, to be selfless."


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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