HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 30, 2007, Herald Journal

Dog bite blues: owners responsible


The reputation of dogs as man’s best friend has come into question recently.

Headlines about dogs chewing on the heads of kids on their way to school, and tearing up neighbors, make for very poor public relations.

More than four million dog bites are reported each year in this country.

The problem is growing. In Minneapolis, dog bites have increased 37 percent in the past decade.

About 60 percent of the victims are children. Letter carriers and delivery persons also rank high on the list.

Every 40 seconds, someone turns up at an emergency room in the US as the result of dog-inflicted injuries.

The City of Minneapolis provides helpful tips on how to avoid being bitten by a dog.

The first tip is to give dogs their own space, because dogs who are disturbed while sleeping, eating, or caring for their offspring could react with aggression. Apparently, dogs are a lot like people.

Minneapolis also suggests avoiding strange dogs, but this can be tricky when dogs are roaming free.

It is recommended that when one encounters a strange dog, one should walk steadily past, since running may excite the animal’s instinct to pursue its prey.

If confronted, we are advised to stand motionless and look over the dog’s head, because direct eye contact is considered a challenge to the dog’s dominance.

This sounds good in theory, but might be difficult to do if one is face-to-face with a snarling canine.

There are tips for dog owners, as well.

Dogs that are spayed or neutered are less likely to bite or roam. Neutering dogs also helps reduce the number of unwanted animals, millions of which have to be euthanized in US humane societies each year.

Controlling a dog by confining or leashing it seems like an obvious solution. If a dog does not have access to strangers, it will have a much more difficult time finding someone to bite.

Socializing and training dogs also reduce the chances of an attack, because they help dogs to be more comfortable around people, and to learn appropriate behavior.

According to the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it is a common misconception that dog bites are typically inflicted by “fighting dogs” or stray animals.

More than 60 percent of dog bites occur in the home of the dog’s owner or that of the victim, and 77 percent of victims are family members or friends of the dog owner. Most bitees know the biter prior to the biting.

Most dog bites occur in the spring. In northern climates, this may be because dogs, like their owners, spend much of the long, cold winter isolated indoors, and, by spring, their social skills may be a bit rusty.

It would be easy to blame the dogs for the attacks, but, as with many problems, people are ultimately responsible.

Pet ownership is not for everyone.

Just as there are some people who are not competent to own vehicles or raise children, there are some who should not be permitted to keep animals.

When it comes to things like driving a car, for example, we at least have some minimal requirements (inadequate though they are) to get a license.

No such license is required to have children or pets.

In many ways, children and pets are similar. Those who choose to have either must provide care and attention, food, and training.

Pets don’t have expensive taste in clothes or require a college education, and it is rare that one is required to take care of a pet for more than about 20 years, due to their relatively short lifespan. There is no such guarantee with children.

In other ways, though, pets and children require the same things.

If a parent fails to provide care, attention, training, or boundaries for a child, the child will suffer and may have difficulty adapting to social situations or understanding appropriate behavior.

The same is true when a pet owner fails to provide these things for a pet.

Most things that are worthwhile do not happen automatically, they require dedication and hard work, and this applies to pet ownership.

If a dog is treated well, and secured properly to prevent it from escaping, the chances of an unfortunate attack are greatly reduced.

This is not really asking much. Contrary to what we have seen in the cartoons, most pets lack the skills (and opposable thumbs) required for using tools, and are not likely to fashion elaborate means of escape.

When it comes to crimes of the tooth, the guilty party is often not the one who pays the price.

Unfortunately for the animals, if a dog does get into trouble, it is the dog who gets executed, not the owner.

Perhaps if this were the other way around, the owners would take better care of their animals.