I got a call from a law enforcement contact of mine a few days ago. A 5 year-old child had been attacked by a dog and seriously injured. Details were sketchy at the time and some of the information didn’t add up. The child lived at one address, the dog was owned by a person at a different address, the incident occurred at 5:00 a.m. and it happened when the child entered the home where the dog lives. The child had injuries to his face and scalp which were severe but not life threatening.
Situations like this always make me wonder what really happened. Why was a child interacting with a dog belonging to someone else at 5 in the morning? Where were the adults? Had this child met the dog before? Did he know anything about how to interact with dogs? Was the dog sleeping, protecting puppies or protecting property? Was the child trying to kiss or hug the dog?
Don’t get me wrong. This was a tragic incident and it is terrible that a child was injured. I presume, but have not yet confirmed, that the dog was euthanized so that is the flip side of the tragedy for me. A life is perhaps forever changed - that of the child - and a life is ended - that of the dog - when this incident was totally preventable.
All dogs have teeth and all dogs bite. They bite other animals, they bite each other and they bite humans. Dogs use their mouths and teeth to communicate; sometimes they growl, sometimes they nip and sometimes they bite. Ninety-nine percent of emergency room treated dog bites are rated as minor punctures and lacerations. About half of the people who require medical attention as a result of a dog bite are children.
In December, 2013, The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published the most comprehensive multi-factorial study of dog bite-related fatalities to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970’s. Experts have recommended for decades that a range of ownership and husbandry practices to reduce the number of dog bite injuries. The 2013 JAVMA paper confirmed the multifaceted approach to dog bite prevention recommended by previous studies, as well as by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors: no able-bodied person being present to intervene (87.1%); the victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s) (85.2%); the dog(s) owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s)(84.4%); a victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s) (77.4%); the owner keeping dog(s) as resident dog(s), rather than as family pet(s) (76.2%); the owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s) (37.5%); and the owner’s abuse or neglect of dog(s) (21.1%). Four or more of these factors were present in 80.5% of cases; breed was not one of those factors.
April 8-14, 2018 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. I encourage everyone who owns dogs, interacts with dogs or who has children to take some time to learn about dog bite prevention to keep your families safe and keep your neighborhoods safe. You can find a lot of great information published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA and HSUS. I’m also a fan of the information found on Dog Gone Safe, Good Dog in a Box and Stop the 77.
Even if you don’t have a dog, you can help keep your children safe by teaching them how to “speak dog.” It is common for children to try to kiss dogs, hug dogs, ride on dogs or behave in ways which may make some dogs nervous or anxious. Teaching children some basics about how to behave around family dogs and unfamiliar dogs can go a really long way toward avoiding tragedy. Once you teach your children the skills they need, they are apt to share that knowledge with other children to help keep their friends safe.
I suspect the little boy hurt on Monday had not been taught how to behave around dogs. I really wish he had.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson