FYI: Article - Blind man guides way for Layla's law
ginettep at seals.org
Mon May 14 10:13:16 PDT 2001
Local News : Thursday, May 10, 2001
Blind man guides way for Layla's law
By Diane Brooks
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hy Cohen never knew when he could leave his own house.
The 24-year-old blind man and his guide dog, Layla, would walk down the
sidewalk of their Mountlake Terrace cul-de-sac, heading for the bus stop,
when a neighbor's yellow Labrador retriever would suddenly charge, growling
and barking, sometimes bumping Layla.
The Lab never hurt Layla. But guide dogs for the blind are bred and trained
to be passive toward other dogs, Cohen said. Layla began to freeze in front
of Cohen's house if the Lab was anywhere near.
Then she developed a phobia toward all large dogs, pulling Cohen into roads,
garbage cans and tree branches as she tried to run away.
For nearly a year, Cohen struggled with Mountlake Terrace police, trying to
get the city to enforce its own leash law. But the timing was bad: budget
cuts had forced the city to eliminate its animal-control officer.
Next he studied the state's White Cane Law, which makes it a misdemeanor to
intentionally deny a blind person access to public right of ways. But he
learned it didn't apply in his case.
"So I decided to give them a law that would apply," Cohen said.
The result was "Layla's Law," a guide-dog protection law that was signed by
Gov. Gary Locke two weeks ago. When it takes effect July 22, Washington will
join 15 other states with such laws.
Now it will be a misdemeanor to knowingly interfere with or recklessly
injure a guide dog, or to allow one's dog to obstruct or intimidate a guide
dog. Repeat offenders might be charged with a gross misdemeanor, which
carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The intentional injury or death of a guide dog is classified as a Class C
felony, the same protection given to police dogs, with a maximum sentence of
five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, sponsored the bill after meeting
Cohen at a local library. Cohen wrote the bill's early versions, using the
Internet to research provisions contained in other states' laws.
The dog-protection legislation "probably will be one of the best bills I've
ever done," said McAuliffe, who has served eight years in Olympia.
Surprisingly, the bill's strongest opponents early on were agencies serving
the blind, including the Washington Council of the Blind and the National
Federation of the Blind.
McAuliffe and Sen. Jeri Costa, D-Everett, who saved the bill from dying in
committee, said the problem was two-fold. Cohen hadn't sought the agencies'
involvement or assistance before taking his case to the Legislature, and the
bill highlighted a philosophical schism within the blind community.
Some blind people strongly oppose the use of guide dogs, they discovered.
True independence, for some, means relying upon white canes to get around.
"I had no idea there was this huge rift. Some people in the blind community
abhor guide dogs," Costa said.
With just hours to spare before a Senate deadline for moving bills out of
the judiciary committee, Costa pulled together representatives from the
blind community to work on the bill, creating new language they could
support. The final bill contained lighter penalties and tighter language
defining criminal offenses.
Gary Burdette, legislative representative for the Washington Council of the
Blind, said his group is thrilled with the rewritten bill.
In addition to its obvious benefits, the bill also will give blind people a
defense against animal-rights activists who think guide dogs are being
abused, he said.
One Seattle-area woman was stalked inside a grocery store by somebody
looking for a chance to grab her dog and turn it loose, Burdette said.
"We want to be able to say, 'It's against the law - back off,' " Burdette
When Cohen set out last June to push for the new law, legislators warned him
it could take three to five years to get his bill passed.
"I'm amazed. It got it passed in one year, with unanimous support in both
Houses," Cohen said. "I feel like it was a huge accomplishment. It shows
that a citizen can actually make a difference."
Meanwhile, Layla, a 5-year-old black Labrador, has partially recovered from
her big-dog phobia, Cohen said. Guide Dogs for the Blind, which provided him
with Layla in September 1997, sent out an instructor to help Cohen re-train
the dog, he said.
"She's still a little rocky, but overall the problem has been solved," he
Diane Brooks can be reached at 206-464-2567 or dbrooks at seattletimes.com.
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