News staff writer

July 1, 2006

Billy Caldwell always has two items within his immediate reach. One is his cell phone and the other is his constant companion, a golden lab guide dog named Keanu.

The two have been inseparable since Keanu came to his home in 1999 as a 9-month-old pup. As Caldwell talked, he smoothed his hand over Keanu’s fur. The motion stopped as his hand rubbed the rough patch where another dog left a helter-skelter pattern of puncture wounds across Keanu’s neck, shoulder and ears in a vicious attack on Memorial Day.

“He’s not 100 percent yet but I’m pretty sure he’s going to be okay,” Caldwell said.

While Keanu has physically recovered and has started back in harness, it’s still uncertain what effect the attack has had on his ability to continue as a guide dog.

On the day of the attack, the pair went to Rosauers Supermarket for their daily trip to have coffee. When they went to return home, they walked past the store’s can room when Caldwell said a dog jumped onto Keanu from nowhere.

“Without any warning, bark or anything,” he said. “I couldn’t see the dog to get it off Keanu.”

Rosauers employee Mike Lompa rushed toward Caldwell and the blur of fur attacking the lab. He did not hesitate to take action.

“I kicked that dog harder than I have ever kicked anything ever before and I had to kick it five or six times to get it to let go,” Lompa said. “I had to fight the dog off; it would have killed him.”

To end the attack, he had to reach down and pull the other animal, an Australian-shepherd mix weighing about 100 pounds, off the golden lab. From amid the mixture of blood and fear, Lompa heard someone yelling at him.

“This woman was angry at me for hurting her dog,” he said. “I had to say to her, ‘Look lady, your dog just attacked a blind man’s guide dog!’”

Lompa helped Caldwell and got information from the woman. He becomes angry at the recollection.

“I can’t believe I was so nice,” he said. “She stood right there and lied to me.”

The woman gave Lompa a false name, phone number, and address. When he went to write down her vehicle information, she told him she did not want the car mentioned as it didn’t belong to her. So he didn’t write down the license plate number.

“He did everything correctly,” said Casey DePriest, animal control officer for Hood River County. “Unfortunately what leads we have had have just not gone anywhere.”

What they do know is the woman was driving a 1986-87 four-door white Toyota Camry and is from the Cook/Underwood area. She also has an aggressive dog that she leaves unrestrained that attacks without warning.

“It’s becoming an epidemic,” said Malinda Carlson, with Guide Dog Services.

She trained Keanu and Caldwell and has been involved with the dog’s rehabilitation. She said during her decades of work with training guide dogs the number of dog attacks have increased overall against both people and other animals.

“Guide dogs are a little more vulnerable because they are out working everywhere in many different types of situations,” she said.

Carlson said when a guide dog is injured in such attacks; the animal must overcome both physical and mental hurdles to return to work. She, Caldwell, and Keanu walked with the dog out of harness to revisit the site of the attack.

“She would give him kibbles every 10-15 feet to distract him as we went over there and came right back,” Caldwell said. “They use food as a distraction for a terrible situation, to see if he keeps his mind on the food and not memory of the attack or another dog then it’s a good sign.”

They repeated the exercise of going to Rosauers as well as Carlson bringing another dog to test Keanu’s reaction. Keanu excelled to the point that Carlson gave the okay for him to go back in harness last Friday.

Carlson is optimistic but cautious that the attack will not have any lingering effects on Keanu. She said now it’s time to monitor the guide dog’s reaction to other dogs while he in service. Caldwell believes Keanu will be fine but said he is afraid of encounters with another aggressive dog.

“I just don’t know yet how he will do if we go walking up in the Heights and a pickup goes by with a dog barking; I just don’t know how he’ll react,” Caldwell said. The sheriff’s office is continuing to take information on the case. Contact Casey DePriest at 386-2098, ext. 4.

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