A nightmarish attack by a neighbor’s dog in 2010 ended Dusty’s chances for a career as a guide dog.
But something good emerged from that frightful day: Dusty’s Law. Proponents sipped champagne Wednesday at The Seeing Eye in Morris Township to celebrate a measure that should give blind people a greater sense of security when they venture into the world with their guide dogs.
“Hopefully, when we get the word out, this will make other dog owners more responsible around guide dogs,” said Roger Woodhour, a Seeing Eye volunteer puppy-raiser from Woodcliff Lake.
Roger, who is not blind, lost a fingertip defending Dusty, a nine-month-old German shepherd, during that July attack four years ago. Dusty lost four teeth and needed nearly 100 stitches to close wounds inflicted by a pit bull that bounded from a neighbor’s house.
Dusty’s Law, signed by Gov. Christie in January, establishes criminal penalties for killing, injuring or interfering with a service animal or guide dog.
Even more importantly, said Seeing Eye CEO Jim Kutsch, the law empowers police to respond when a guide dog is attacked.
Previously, such attacks were not considered crimes. Often they were referred to animal control officers. Response times could be slow. A blind person might be left dazed, alarmed or injured, without a reliable way home if her guide dog was badly hurt, according to The Seeing Eye, the world’s oldest guide dog school.
“It’s good knowing that at least I could call for police support. Before, they put a low priority on it,” said Vincent Chaney, president of the 25-member New Jersey Association of Guide Dog Owners. Randolph, his yellow Labrador Retriever guide dog, stood patiently by his side.
A Seeing Eye survey in 2011 found that more than 40 percent of all guide dog teams have been attacked, and nearly 90 percent have experienced interference from dogs that either ran loose or were poorly controlled by their owners.
The survey reported that some guide dogs were so rattled that they could not reliably continue their service after an attack. The trauma can shake a blind person’s confidence, too.
Under Dusty’s Law, anyone who allows an animal to kill a guide dog can face up to 18 months in prison and $10,000 in fines. Allowing an animal to injure or interfere with a guide dog can bring six months in jail.
Restitution also may be imposed. It costs about $50,000 to train a Seeing Eye dog.
State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist.), the bill’s prime sponsor, stopped by for Wednesday’s brief ceremony.
“You elected me to do a job, and I’m doing it,” said the legislator, who owns a black Labrador Retriever. He acknowledged admiring The Seeing Eye ever since he featured it on his cable TV program years ago.
The Seeing Eye also thanked Lisa Yakomin, a legislative aide from Bergen County; Roger Woodhour’s wife Sheila; Ginger Kutsch, a Seeing Eye volunteer who is married to Jim; and Audrey Kernan, a workers’ compensation judge and volunteer puppy-raiser who drove all the way from Cape May County for the occasion.
Each of them played roles in shepherding Dusty’s Law through the State House, Jim Kutsch said.
Dusty recovered from his injuries and was adopted by a loving family, Roger Woodhour said.
Dusty’s Law, meanwhile, should help working dogs like Vegas, the German shepherd that guides Jim Kutsch to work every day.
“It’s a point of pride that in our own home state, we now have one of the best laws to protect Seeing Eye dogs,” Jim said.