If you are a dog lover and owner, as I am, you know many times dogs and breeds get a bad rap when a dog bite story hits the news wire. We tend to generalize about breeds and sizes of dogs that are particularly, we think, dangerous. While this may be unfair in general, the truth is over 4.7 million get bitten by dogs annually and over half of those victims are children. So, the problem is both a real one and one of legitimate concern.
The American Veterinary Medical Association American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Postal Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery, the Insurance Information Institute and Prevent the Bite are driving home the message that dog bites are a nationwide issue and that education can help prevent dog bites to people of all ages. The key to prevention starts with responsible pet ownership and ends with how we interact with dogs in our environments.
In my career I handled hundreds of dog bite claims and almost all of them were avoidable if proper training and prevention methods had been practiced. I have witnessed firsthand the horrific pain and suffering and disfigurement these incidents have on people, particularly innocent children. Many times the psychological damage is a worse burden to bear than the physical injuries and it is sometimes never overcome. It is a tragedy that some victims must live their lives in constant fear of every dog and of every encounter.
I think it is great that a week is dedicated to this issue across the country. Here are some excellent tips on dog bite prevention and responsible pet ownership supplied by the AVMA:
How to Avoid Being Bitten
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
- Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
- If a dog threatens you, do not scream and do not run. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
- Don’t approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.
- Don’t bother a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
- People choosing to pet dogs should obtain permission from the owner first and always let dogs see and sniff you before petting the animal. Also, curl your fingers into your palm and reach out to the dog with your palm down, fingers curled so that your hand looks more like a paw than a weapon.
- If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
- If you are knocked down by a dog, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.
How to be a Responsible Dog Owner
- Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dogs.
- When letter carriers and others who are not familiar with your dog come to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door in another room.
- Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of others as a threat.
- Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to roam and to bite.
- Dogs are pack animals and communal by nature. Those that receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time, frequently turn into biters.
As a pet lover I know what a tremendous wonderful addition these loving animals have been to my family. We owe it to them, and all of society, to get the message out and pay attention. We can eliminate millions of dog bites and avoid the preventable ensuing tragedies and associated millions in medical costs in emergency rooms across the country.
Prevention is the key because by the time the many folks here in Florida come to see our firm for help sadly the damage is already done, and we are left picking up the pieces of another senseless tragedy.