Guide Dogs graduate Hy Cohen, 24, of Mountlake Terrace, Wash., was the principal writer and lobbyist for "Layla's Law." The bill was named after his black Lab guide (the duo are pictured, left, in front of the Washington State Capitol building). For almost a year, he and Layla were accosted by an aggressive off-leash dog whenever they were leaving or returning home. The dog would charge out of the neighbor's yard, and threaten Layla with barking and intimidating behavior, often causing them to stop in the middle of the street.
These constant confrontations started to have an affect on Layla. She began to avoid all dogs, thus impairing her guidework and the team's safety. Guide Dogs sent an instructor to help bring Layla's confidence back to a safe working level. The city charged the owner of the loose dog with having his dog off-leash, and asked him to pay the lowest allowable fine of $75. According to Hy, city officials said there were no current laws other than the "leash law" which were appropriate to use against the owner of the loose dog.
Although he had no prior experience with the legislative process, Hy decided that action was necessary to help prevent such horrifying experiences from hampering the disabled. He decided to work to change the laws in his state so that guide dogs and other service animals would be put in a different class than pets, because of their special role in helping people with disabilities.
ESSB 5942, officially called "Layla's Law," was the product of Hy's hours of research with guidance from Guide Dogs' Graduate Services staff. The bill was overwhelmingly received by the Washington State House of Representatives and Senate and signed by Governor Locke in a special ceremony (during which Layla rested her chin comfortably on the Governor's foot). "Layla's Law" makes it illegal for any person or their dog to interfere with the use of a dog guide or any other service animal, or for any person or their dog to injure, disable or cause the death of a dog guide or any other service animal. "Layla's Law" also makes it illegal for anyone to take unauthorized control of a dog guide or any other service animal.
If someone is found guilty of violating this law, not only may they be fined and/or jailed, they will also be required to cover all expenses for the animal's training, health care or replacement, as well as any loss of income to the disabled person resulting from the incident.