Chris Smith: Mind your dog, for the sake of those who rely on their own as guides

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There are dogs, like wise-eyed and white-muzzled Caesar, that are highly trained to serve disabled or otherwise compromised humans who commonly come to wonder what in the world they’d do without the animals.

And there are dogs that are service or support dogs because their keepers say they are.

These folks might dress their questionably trained dogs in official-looking vests and take them into stores and other places typically off-limits to pets. When in public, they might not always bother with a leash.

The woman whose two dogs attacked Denise Vancil’s guide dog at a Santa Rosa park said they were therapy dogs. They may indeed comfort and protect the woman, I hope they do.

But she didn’t have them controlled on Aug. 11 at the park on North Street. They attacked and terrified Vancil, who is blind, and also her husband, Ben Karpilow, whose vision is seriously impaired, and also Vancil’s guide dog, Caesar.

“I got injured and I’m a little freaked out,” said Vancil, who teaches at the Earle Baum Center of the Blind in Santa Rosa. “And Caesar got injured and he’s a little freaked out.”

Vancil expects that Caesar, an 8-year-old black Lab, will be able to continue to serve as her guide dog. But there people who tell of their service dogs being disabled or traumatized after attacks by aggressive dogs taken into public as purported service or emotional-support animals or allowed to run off-leash.

Attacks on service dogs have brought a California Assembly bill, AB 169. It would increase penalties on owners of dogs that attack service dogs.

When Caesar was set upon, he and Vancil and Karpilow were on a walk to the park near their JC neighborhood home.

Vancil recalls, “All of a sudden I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Stop!’ Then Vancil’s husband shouted something about getting it under control.

Caesar tugged on his leach and Vancil realized a dog was threatening her service dog.

“I screamed, I stomped,” she said. It became clear that two dogs were attacking her and her dog. She let go of the leash so that Caesar might get away.

One of the dogs “bowled me over,” Vancil said. The second chased Caesar.

Vancil feared she might be mauled and that her dog might be injured or chased into traffic.

At last the clearly mortified and apologetic owner of the attacking dogs, a pit bull and a Lab mix, got them leashed.

And Vancil and her husband found Caesar, who’d been bitten and for a time wouldn’t budge.

“We are doing better every day,” Vancil said.

She’d like for people who ignore leash laws or allow their purported therapy dogs to approach professionally trained service dogs to consider the great harm that can be done.

All of us dog lovers must mind our impact on those who don’t only love their dogs but rely on them for help to safely make their way in the world.

JEWISH OR NOT, you should see the Sonoma Chabad’s new sanctuary and gathering place near the SAY Dream Center in Santa Rosa.

Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky and his wife, Altie, invite all to a grand opening of the Joseph Weingarten Sonoma County Chabad Jewish Center. at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1. There will be music, refreshments and more.

The center’s at 2461 Summerfield Road. Especially cool: the wooden Tree of Life sculpture rooted in the ceiling.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and

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