by Laurie Raymond
From 1986 to 1996 in the US, the dog population rose by about 2%, but the number of reported bites rose by 37%. 800,000 dog bites a year require medical attention – that is, about one out of every six bites. Every year there are approximately 17 fatalities; and for every fatal bite, there are another 230,000 that do not need medical treatment at all. Most bites (61%) occur at home or other familiar place; 77% of biting dogs belong to the victim’s family or a friend. Dog bites are ranked second in accounting for children’s emergency room visits – sandwiched in between baseball/softball injuries and playground accidents. The median age of a bite victim is 15; children, especially boys, between 5 and 9 are the likeliest of all to be bitten.
While the significance of these statistics can be debated, one thing we can say for sure is that most dog bites are preventable – not by banning certain breeds of dog, or by further limiting the public space our dogs can share with us, but by simple education and attention. We’re living in a time when great progress has been made in understanding dog behavior and managing it effectively. The knowledge is as close as your phone, or your neighborhood humane society. But you have to take the trouble to acquire it and teach it to your kids. And you have to practice awareness.
We love our dogs, but sometimes we forget that we weren’t born knowing how to behave around them. Most kids have to be taught that teasing – even gentle teasing – can upset a dog and result in a snap or bite. We all had to learn that staring a dog in the eye isn’t a good idea, and that running and yelling can get a dog over-stimulated and out of control in scary ways. Today there are excellent materials to teach kids how to enjoy dogs safely. A good source, for parents or schools, is the National Association of Humane Educators (www.nahee.org), which produces videos, board games and other items conveying solid information in enjoyable formats.
Our species’ partnership with dogs goes back at least 12,000 years, and has been of incalculable benefit. Loving dogs is one of our greatest joys. It doesn’t have to be dangerous! The Longmont Humane Society offers many routes for kids to learn about dog care, training and safety: see our website, www.longmonthumane.org, stop by the shelter, or give us a call.