Disabled Billingshurst woman feared for life of assistance dog during bulldog attack

Sue Sherlock with her assistance dog Lancelot
Sue Sherlock with her assistance dog Lancelot

An elderly disabled woman told of the moment she feared her beloved assistance dog Lancelot would be killed in an unprovoked attack by an out of control American Bulldog.

Sue Sherlock said she feared for Lancelot’s life when the powerful bulldog hurled itself at him.

Dominic Lutchman outside Horsham Magistrates' Court

Dominic Lutchman outside Horsham Magistrates' Court

Pensioner Mrs Sherlock was out with her highly trained nine-year-old golden retriever, who she calls Lance, when the American Bulldog escaped from his owner’s garden and made straight for them.

She sat powerless in her motorised wheelchair as bulldog Vinnie grabbed Lance by the throat.

The six-year-old American Bulldog had escaped from the front garden at Rowan Drive in Billingshurst, on September 6 last year while its owner was in the shower.

Lancelot sat quietly by her side as Mrs Sherlock told the court she feared for his life.

The bulldog only released Lance after his owner dashed from the house to call him off.

Dominic Lutchman, 26, from Billingshurst, West Sussex changed his plea to guilty of being in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, causing injury to an assistance dog under dangerous dogs legislation.

Mr Sherlock said she relies heavily on Lance and the assistance dog has changed her life.

“The dog went straight for my dog’s throat with no warning at all.

“Before Lancelot I rarely left the house.

“He changed my life completely.

“At the moment of the attack, I was terrified he was going to be killed.

“It was only the owner who was able to get him off.

“What if he hadn’t been there that day.”

Lancelot has changed her life, Mrs Sherlock said.

She is able to go shopping and visit friends like everybody else, she told the court.

Following the incident, Mrs Sherlock said she had nightmares about being attacked by dogs.

“Since the attack on my assistance dog, I’ve become more nervous of large dogs.

“I have to plan walks more carefully.

“If the dog is returned, I shall be more nervous.

“The dog could suddenly escape again.

“I haven’t been past his house since the attack,” Mrs Sherlock said.

Prosecutor Piers Restell said cases like this one can become very emotive.

The dog escaped the front garden when a gate was left open.

“Vinnie was at the home address.

“Mrs Sherlock was walking with Lancelot.

“She describes a white, heavily built dog running directly to Lance.

“He hurled himself at Lance’s throat.

“Starting to try and twist and drag her dog’s throat.

“Lancelot had puncture wounds to his neck and rip to his left ear which all required stitching,” Mr Restell said.

Sussex Police seized Vinnie two months after the incident.

“A number of previous incidents were recorded by police involving the dog,” Mr Restell said.

The court decided to allow the dog to be returned to his owner after issuing a contingent destruction order.

Magistrate Vanessa Cumper said: “There was a lack of safety and control around the animal.

“We did hear there were injuries to an assistance dog and the impact on Miss Sherlock as well.”

Magistrates at Horsham ordered Lutchman to do 180 hours unpaid work.

Chair Vanessa Cumper also ordered him to pay a total of £3299.38 including £300 compensation to Mrs Sherlock, vet bills and kennelling costs.

“We are satisfied he does not pose a danger to the public and you are a fit and proper person to own Vinnie,” Vanessa Cumper said.

The dog will have to be muzzled in public and on a short lead, and go on a 12 week behaviour course.

Any breach of the conditions will result in destruction of the dog.

Jenny Dwyer-Ward of Canine Partners who provided Lancelot to Mrs Sherlock said: “An attack on any dog is distressing to the pet and owner.

“Such attack on an assistance dog can have a detrimental impact on the life of its partner who is living with physical disabilities, given the reliance they have on the dog to support everyday tasks and routines.

“Such an attack can reduce the owner’s sense of safety and the dog’s confidence, which may result in further training and support from the charity.

“At this stage, we believe that the attack has had a lasting impact on both the dog and its partner.

“We have therefore continued to provide extra support and ongoing assessment.

“Following the incident and taking into account the age of the dog, we are now looking at future retirement.”