Downeast Dog News
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Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Part 2

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Aug 01, 2016

Last month I started a series on Dog Bite Fatalities and Dog Bites due to the death of a seven-year-old boy on Saturday, June 4th. My July column dealt specifically with fatalities from dog bites and the fact that while they are tragic, they are also quite rare. You are 1000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident or an accidental fall than to die as the result of a dog bite.

There are some common factors in dog bite fatalities. A study published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in December of 2013 identified several controllable factors that played a part in dog bite fatalities. Four or more of these factors were present in at least 80.5% of the dog bite fatalities examined.

No able-bodied person was present to intervene to attempt to stop the attack. In 87.1% of the cases reviewed, it is quite possible that an attack could have been prevented or interrupted if another person were present. This is why all interactions between a child and a dog should ALWAYS be closely monitored and supervised by a responsible adult. The same applies to an adult who may not have the physical or mental capacity to interact with the dog.

The victim had no relationship with the dog. In 85.2% of the incidents, the victim did not have an established relationship with the dog for at least ninety days. They were not necessarily a total stranger, but they were not part of the immediate household or one who interacted in a positive manner with the dog on a regular basis.

The dog had not been spayed or neutered in 84.4% of the incidents. The decision to spay or neuter a dog has many variables, and it is not as clear cut as it was a few years ago. In some cases, people delay a spay/neuter due to medical reasons or the cost. However, the benefits of spaying and neutering from an animal welfare and a behavioral perspective are also well established. An individual who does not choose to spay/neuter should consider that his decision may increase his dog’s probability of biting.

The victim was physically unable to manage his interaction with the dog or defend himself due to his age or physical condition (77.4%). - For purposes of the study, “Victims were deemed unable to interact appropriately with the dog if they were < 5 years of age or they had limited mental or physical capacity that increased their vulnerability (e.g., dementia, alcohol intoxication, impairment from drugs, or uncontrolled seizure disorders). As noted above, dogs must be supervised when they are left around those who may not be able to control the dog.

The dog was not a family pet, but lived on the property, often kept outside and often kept in isolation from people, resulting in little or no regular opportunities for positive interactions with people (76.2%). It does not surprise me that dogs that are considered to be part of the family and thus have a closer bond with people are less likely to bite as opposed to a dog that is mostly consigned to an outdoor kennel or being tied-out on a rope or chain. The study described the latter as “residential dogs.” Those that keep a residential dog as opposed to a family dog, should make sure that the residential dog is contained to limit any possibility of interactions that could result in a bite.

There was a documented history of inadequate management of the dog (37.5%). In this case, there was evidence that the owner of the dog had allowed the dog to be a danger to others in the past as indicated by previous bite incidents or allowing the dog to run at large.

The owner abused or neglected the dog (21.6%). Neglect by an owner included the dog not being given access to shelter, food, or water or having an untreated medical condition. Abuse also constituted cases where the dog was used for fighting or where there was clear evidence of deliberate physical punishment or deprivation.

So what about the breed of dog? This same study reported that the breed of the dog which had killed could NOT be reliably identified in more than 80% of the cases. Sadly, when a dog bite fatality is reported, often the first question from the public and media is “What breed was the dog?” Far too often the dogs breed then becomes the focus of local authorities who then propose new laws centered on breed (Breed Specific Legislation [BSL]) when the dog’s breed is not relevant. This paper discusses other studies that have demonstrated that breed-specific legislation has not been effective at reducing dog bites or dog bite fatalities. That is why "...major professional bodies (e.g., veterinary associations in the United States and Europe, the American Bar Association, the National Animal Control Association, and major humane organizations have not recommended single-factor solutions such as BSL."

Clearly, reducing dog bites is the responsibility of all of us. Next month I will address some of the things that I believe we could all do that would help do just that.

1 Gary J. Patronek, Jeffrey J. Sacks, Karen M. Delise, Donald V. Cleary, and Amy R. Marder. Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, December 15, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 12 , Pages 1726-1736.  (doi: 10.2460/javma.243.12.1726)

 

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/  every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.