By DENISE GRANT
It has been over three months since Kris Depuy, 59, of 1623 Manor Hill Road, lost use of her guide dog, along with much of her independence.
Depuy’s dog, Pippa, a nearly 6-year-old female chocolate Labrador retriever, was decommissioned by Pilot Dogs of Columbus in March after the dog was diagnosed by the organization with something like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pippa started showing signs of aggression toward other dogs in 2018, making her unfit for further service as a guide dog.
When a guide dog is “retired,” the sponsor organization reclaims their harness. These days, Pippa wears a simple collar around her neck.
“She’s just a pet now,” said Depuy, scratching the top of Pippa’s head.
Depuy said her dog’s aggressive and skittish behavior toward other dogs began after Pippa was attacked by a neighbor’s dog, a now 6-year-old German shepherd named Ricky.
Ricky is owned by Mariana Seklemova of 1615 Brand Manor Road, just a few doors from the Depuy residence.
A report from Hancock County Animal Control details an incident in November 2017 when Depuy and Pippa were checking the mail at the same time that Seklemova had Ricky out for a walk. According to the report, Seklemova said her large German shepherd pulled its leash from her hand and ran over to Depuy.
In the report, Depuy said the shepherd jumped on both her and her guide dog. Depuy said she got tangled somehow in the leashes and was knocked to the ground.
There were no serious physical injuries to either of the women or the dogs.
Depuy said Ricky has attacked Pippa three times since she got the guide dog in 2015.
She claims the shepherd also attacked her first service dog, Clark, a vizsla, which is a breed of hunting dog. Clark was retired from duty at age 10, the same year Depuy got Pippa.
Depuy was diagnoised with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder affecting the retina of the eye, at age 30. By the age of 47, failing vision forced her to give up her driver’s license.
She said having a guide dog gave her back her independence.
“I walk everywhere because I can’t drive,” she said.
Now, having lost the use of her guide dog, she takes the HATS transportation service to work, but cannot walk to work or to stores.
In a letter dated March 14, Ray Byers, director of training for Pilot Dogs, scolded local officials for not charging Seklemova with a crime. He cited state law that protects service animals.
The law requires dog owners to “reasonably restrain their dog from taunting, tormenting, chasing, approaching in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, or attempting to bite or otherwise endanger an assistance dog that at the time of the conduct” is serving a person with a disability. Violating the law is considered a first-degree misdemeanor.
“Ms. DePuy only wants to be able to walk her neighborhood and to work or stores without being in fear of her or her dog’s safety,” Byers said.
Byers told The Courier it takes about $10,000 to train a single guide dog. Pilot Dogs donates its assistance animals, but Berger said placing another guide dog with Depuy would be risky with Ricky in the neighborhood.
Hancock County Dog Warden Dana Berger said he did request charges be filed against Seklemova by the Findlay Prosecutor’s Office, at the request of Depuy. Berger said city prosecutors declined to file charges.
Calls placed by The Courier to the city prosecutor’s office about the case were not returned.
Berger said dog disputes like this one can be tough to resolve.
Berger said he has also warned Depuy about allowing her dog to run around the neighborhood off a leash.
Several attempts to contact Seklemova were unsuccessful.