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Service dog’s injury worries her owner

Patty Benedict said when her dog Yoshi came running in the house with a bump on her back, she thought the dog might have been stung by a bee.

But when she ran her hand down her flank, Benedict said, a BB fell into her hand.

“I was really surprised,” the Port Orchard resident said, explaining that Yoshi, a 5-year-old labrador and Irish Wolfhound mix, was outside in her own fenced-in yard. “I picked this house because I thought the yard would be great. I didn’t think I’d have to be worried about (people) with BB guns.”

Luckily, a vet was able to remove another BB lodged in the dog’s skin and give her medication for an infection, but Benedict said what worries her now are the not-so-obvious injuries — injuries that are much harder to treat, and that may affect her dog’s ability to perform her duties as a service dog.

For the past five years, Yoshi has been Benedict’s nearly constant companion, helping with daily tasks like shopping or other errands.

Due to nerve damage in her back, Benedict uses a cane or a walker to get around the house, and often needs a hand — or paw — to help her get on her feet.

“I can’t carry anything over five pounds,” she said, explaining that Yoshi can carry up to 21 pounds in the various packs Benedict straps on the dog’s back, helping her owner carry groceries, library books and even attend Olympic College a few years ago.

But the dog also helps in ways Benedict can’t really explain.

“She lets me know when I need to sit down and stop, because I tend to try to go further than I should,” she said. “I don’t know how she knows, and I don’t question it anymore. She just gets in front of me until I sit down.”

Ever since the dog was shot, however, Benedict said there have been some disturbing changes.

At first, the wound prevented Benedict from putting any but the smallest backpack on the dog. And now, she said, Yoshi has become more afraid of people, and even aggressive.

“She has become aggressive toward certain people,” Benedict said, explaining that the dog’s heightened fear worries her when she has to go out in public, especially to crowded stores or other areas where there might be lots of strangers.

To help Yoshi adjust, Benedict said she is taking her back to a trainer, hoping to calm her down.

“Right now she needs some healing time,” she said, explaining that the trainer is working to “desensitize Yoshi, and teach her not to become aggressive.”

Benedict said she and the vet have faith Yoshi will eventually be back to her old self. But if the testiness remains, she said she won’t get another dog, but perhaps use a muzzle-type device to prevent Yoshi from bitting.

“It scares me to think that I could lose her,” Benedict said, explaining that the training is expensive. “I probably depend on her more than I should. But when my husband passed away, she was all I had left.”

Benedict said she doesn’t like to think it was any of her neighbors who shot her dog, but she still does not know what happened.

Animal Control Supervisor Rance McEntyre said on Aug. 22 Benedict reported her dog had been shot, and an officer came out to the house to investigate the incident.

No suspects were identified, he said.

If a suspect had been identified, such intentional harm to an animal would have constituted first-degree animal cruelty charges, he said, and if the crime is committed against a service or guide dog, the penalties are even more severe.

McEntyre said it’s all too common for animals, both dogs and cats, to be shot with BB guns. Sometimes they are shot by kids “looking for some fun,” but often it can be adults annoyed by neighbor dogs digging in their yards or getting into garbage cans who hurt them, he said.

No matter how the animal got shot, however, he said he believes the vast majority of incidents are not reported.

“We only get about a dozen a year reported in Kitsap County,” he said, explaining the rest are not reported for various reasons.

“Sometimes, people don’t know what happened,” he said, explaining that BBs often burrow in an animal’s skin, and are not obvious unless an owner really feels in their fur. “Sometimes, the pet just (dies), and the owner might never know why.”

Other times, McEntyre said, owners may fear their pet was getting into trouble.

“Sometimes, they know their animal was out running around, and that they’re not supposed to be running around, so they’ll shrug it off,” he said.

McEntyre said Benedict did the right thing by keeping her dog in the yard, and carefully inspecting her when she suspected something was wrong.

McEntyre advised dog — and cat — owners to keep their pets on their property at all times,

“Know where your pet is and what condition they are in,” he said. “Pet your pet. Feel their fur and check for bumps.”

Unfortunately, McEntyre said no matter how many precautions an owner takes, there is still a chance that they may be harmed, and sometimes by people who never realized how much damage a BB gun can do.

“Many people don’t realize that BB guns have enough velocity that if they were shot close enough and in the right spot, you can kill an animal,” McEntyre said.

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