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BRADENTON — Richard Draper remembers seeing only a white flash in the second his guide dog, Andie, was attacked.
It was Monday afternoon and the Bradenton resident, who is legally blind with a little distorted vision, was walking along the 4000 block of Southern Parkway with Andie when a witness said three dogs attacked the female guide dog.
Draper, 58, recounted the horrific incident from his living room two days later beside his wife, Sonia Draper. Andie, who was given to Draper two and a half years ago by the nonprofit organization Southeastern Guide Dogs, suffered puncture wounds as a result of the attack. Head resting on her paws, Andie lay peacefully by Draper’s feet. Her future as a guide dog is now uncertain, and only time will tell if she will be able to work again.
“I’ve been lost,” Draper said about no longer having his “eyes” with him. “Andie is like my radar.”
According to a Manatee County Animal Services activity card, two dogs came out of Manuel Welborn’s garage and went after Andie.
“Draper was not bitten, however his guide dog Andie, a female Lab, did have blood spots under her neck,” the document states.
Draper remembers yelling at the first dog to stop. He soon found himself in the median during the scuffle, halfway across the street from Robert H. Prine Elementary School.
“I’m trying to kick this dog and I’m trying to kick at it and he keeps lunging at Andie,” Draper said. “I’m kicking and then another dog grabbed my leg.”
Robert Hodgin, who lives in the neighborhood, was walking his #golden retriever when he heard the commotion between Draper, Andie, and three dogs he described as pitbulls.
“One dog grabbed his pants, the other grabbed his dog in the throat and the other was snapping at him,” Hodgin said.
The 71-year-old said he jumped in to give Draper some relief.
“It was so quick. You don’t know whether you should have been involved or not, but I felt sorry for him,” Hodgin said. “I didn’t want my dog to be attacked, but I ran up there anyway and got in the middle.”
One of the dogs finally let go after he kicked it in the side several times, Hodgin said.
Welborn, the owner of the dogs, then came out, according to Hodgins.
“He’s giving us heck for being mean to his dog,” Hodgins said. “They were like wolves. Once they got a hold of him, they wouldn’t let go.”
In the activity card issued by MCAS, a Bradenton police officer who responded to the scene reported there were only two dogs. But Hodgin said there were three and, according to the MCAS document, Welborn admitted to having a third dog but said she was not involved in the attack.
An Animal Services officer cited Welborn for dog at large causing injury.
“It was just a big misunderstanding,” Welborn said briefly when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.
A second attempt to reach him for further comment was unsuccessful.
Draper expressed anger at the responding police officer, who Draper accused of handling the situation like a “regular dog bite case.” He added that the guide dog’s training alone is worth $60,000.
“Andie is my husband’s eyes, period,” Sonia said.
Since the incident, Sonia said it’s been strange to see Richard navigating with his cane.
The couple later spoke to Bradenton Police Sgt. Joseph Kelly about the incident.
“He did speak with the couple and the issue has been referred to the officer’s direct supervisor, which is Lt. Jeremy Giddens who is going to look into the issue,” said Bradenton Police Captain William Fowler. “We recognize that there are specific types of working dogs and that seeing eye dogs is a specific type of working dog. As far as having any formal training with them, we have none.”
Officers, Fowler added, generally don’t deal with guide dogs.
This past Monday’s incident is the third reported attack on a Southeastern guide dog nationwide, according to Suzy Wilburn, the organization’s director of Admissions and Graduate Services. The other two incidents happened in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“We have to give Andie time enough to heal first and put the harness back on her and see if she’s willing to work again,” Wilburn said. “Sometimes we have dogs that are traumatized from events like this and they connect it to having the harness on and being in a working mode and then they decide that working is what caused this trauma to them and they refuse to work.”
Andie, Wilburn said, may recover from this but she needs time. Wilburn said the organization will check in with Draper in a week or so to see how Andie is faring. If she doesn’t seem withdrawn, Wilburn said the organization will then send a trainer to the Draper home to work with her.
“I think this situation brings to light that a lot of education needs to be done for what a guide dog is and how important they are,” Wilburn said. “Pets are one thing, but this is different. A guide dog is somebody’s lifeline to freedom.”
The Drapers hope this story helps the community-at-large to understand the importance of a guide dog in the life of a person with a disability.
“There’s a lot of ignorance, a lot of misunderstanding,” Sonia said.
In a way, Andie is a magnet to Draper. At one point, she jumped onto the couch and nestled on his lap.
From the moment Draper gets up in the morning, she follows him everywhere. Andie serves as his eyes, leading Draper and never failing to follow the server to their table whenever they go to any restaurant.
“She’s with me all the time,” Draper said as he pet Andie. “She keeps me safe.”
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.