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Dog Bite Awareness Week brings some cautions

May 15, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

You see it all too often in the news: a small child is seriously injured or even killed by an aggressive dog.

And these confrontations seem to happen more and more, especially in Lee County.

Roughly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually according to the American Humane Society, and they have become a legitimate health and safety issue, especially when the bites come from the larger and stronger breeds.

May 18 to 24 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, an event that brings awareness to this growing problem, and one that is often preventable if you are educated, regardless of the size of the dog.

Nearly 1,400 reported bite cases - where the victim has sought medical treatment and are reported to medical professionals - are reported in Lee County each year.

Nationally, 80 percent of victims are under 13 years old, and most victims know and have interacted regularly with the animal that bit them.

The American Humane Society has some tips to prevent dog bites:

Don't approach an unfamiliar dog, especially if they are tied down or confined, which owners should also do.

If you walk your dog, it must be on a leash.

Respect the dog's personal space.

Know the dog's body language to see if the animal wants to be approached.

Ria Brown, Lee County Animal Services spokesperson, said that issue is particularly important.

"Dogs will give you a warning if it's going to bite you and where it will bite you. Some people can't read their body language," Brown said. "Exercise common sense and caution, such as not making contact with a stray or confined dog. Let it sniff you first, and don't run past it because they immediately see you as prey."

Other tips include don't turn your back on a dog and run because the dog's instinct is to chase.

If you think a dog will attack you, stand still, hands at your sides and avoid eye contact. You can either slowly back away until the dog loses interest or go to the ground, put your head to the ground and putting your hands and arms over your head.

"If the dog does bite, it will be to a part of the body that does the least damage," Brown said. "A bite to the rear is better than a bite to the head or neck. At that point you can scream because you want someone to hear you."

If the dog does attack and you can't "turtle," feed it your jacket, purse, or anything between the dog and you.

If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl into a ball with your hands over your ears and remain motionless.

If you are bitten, don't panic. Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water and contact your physician for additional care and advice.

Most important, report the bite to your local animal care and control agency. Tell the official everything you know about the dog, including his owner's name and address. If the dog is a stray, tell the official what the dog looks like, where you saw him, whether you've seen him before, and in which direction he went.

Brown said the only involvement they have with bites are with strays.

"We quarantine it because they have no home. The Health Department will notify us if it's a vicious attack to do an investigation," Brown said.

Brown also said 60 percent of dog bites occur when the victim is familiar with the dog.

If your dog attacks someone, try to remain calm. Confine your dog to another room and help the victim wash the wound thoroughly with warm, soapy water.

Be courteous and sympathetic to the victim. Avoid laying blame or getting defensive. What you say may be used against you if legal or civil action is taken.

Contact a medical professional for the bite victim. Depending on the severity of the bite, an ambulance may be needed.

Exchange contact information with the victim. Provide your insurance information, if applicable. If there were witnesses, obtain their contact information.

Contact your veterinarian and obtain your dog's medical records and inform local authorities of the incident and comply with their orders.

Brown said dog owners can take other precautions beforehand.

"Spay and neuter your pet because that will decrease their tendency to be aggressive and socialize your pet around people," Brown said. "There is also an ordinance where you can't tether your pet outside. That's the worst thing because they become territorial."

Jerry Von Gruben, an attorney with Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, said his firm handles dog bite cases quite often, and it's usually the same story.

"I get called about them often and have a number of active cases, and they're almost always pit bulls," Von Gruben said. "It's not they're necessarily more violent, but they're capable of inflicting more damage than other dogs. They're bred for that."

As a result, Von Gruben said most insurance companies are excluding dog bites from their policies. People are getting bit and homeowners are unable to pay the medical bills.

"This can be huge if a dog bites a small child in the face and they end up with plastic surgery and scarring," Von Gruben said. "If you own a rental property, you can't get insurance if you own a pit bull. It's a liability issue."

That doesn't mean the pit bull is inherently violent. In 2010, the American Temperament Test Society showed the American pit bull terrier scored an overall temperament rating of 83.9 percent, compared to the 77 percent score of the general dog population.

The Cape Coral Police Dept. handles many dog bite cases, but it usually does not much more than filling out a personal injury report, according to spokesperson Dana Coston.

"Dogs are required to be leashed and any fights resulting from that are more of a civil nature unless there's criminal negligence of an owner sicing a dog on someone," Coston said. "It's not unheard of, but not terribly common."

Since 2005, there have been 962 callouts regarding dog bites, according to CCPD statistics.



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