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Bella, the black Lab guide of Sharon McConnell, has been known as the "four-legged lobbyist" in New Mexico. She's the fuzzy face behind a bill that passed legislation and was signed into law by Governor Gary Johnson.

"Bella's Bill," as it's known, put some real teeth into an existing ordinance by making it a misdemeanor punishable by fine for owners whose unleashed animals interfere with or injure guide or service dogs.

Sharon, a visually impaired sculptor, took matters into her own hands after Bella was attacked by an unrestrained dog that was loitering outside an art gallery. This and other similar incidents caused Bella to become fearful and jumpy around other dogs and her guidework was becoming affected. Sharon sought the guidance of New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid and Assistant Attorney General Theresa Welch and began lobbying for a change in the law.

When Guide Dogs learned of the situation, we sent an instructor to Sharon's home to work with the team for a week. In some cases like this, the dogs are not able to overcome their fear and must be retired, but luckily, Bella's training has been restored. Our Graduate Services Department reports that they hear of similar situations at least once or twice a month.

This law was patterned after the Ainsworth Initiative in California.