Saturday, December 15, 2012

An interesting case in California

I saw this case back a few months ago when it first surfaced.  The basic story was that a San Francisco Police Department Mounted Officer was on his horse in a designated off-lead dog park when a dog attacked the horse.  There was a hue and cry that the Officer was at fault for being in the dog area on a horse and that the dog probably reacted out of fear. Several folks commented that this was a case of breed assumptions and discrimination since the dog has been identified as an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Today a summary of the investigation by the SFPD was released and it shows a few more telling details that make the case less a matter of discrimination and more a problem with an irresponsible owner, and a dog that had unaddressed issues.

First the summary of details from SFPD:

The Officer was in the off-leash area on horseback, but was allegedly 200 feet from the dog and owner when the incident began.

The dog saw the horseback Officer and targeted the horse from that distance.  The horse was not approaching the dog.

The dog closed the distance and bit the Officer on his booted leg.  The Officer told the owner to take control of his dog-and the owner allegedly failed to do so.

The dog then began biting the horse, which panicked and threw the rider.

The horse ran away.  The dog pursued, reengaging the horse three more times; once at the stable, once in a separate area, and again a third time near an intersection where a motorcycle Officer was able to intervene.

The dog did not just bite at the horse's hooves and lower legs-the dog attacked upwards at the horse's abdomen and cause significant bites there.

The SFPD concluded that the dog had actively pursued the horse rather than reacting in fear, and that the dog was dangerous.

With this listing of factors, I have to agree.  Based on this set of factors-and understand, I was neither there nor have I reviewed the reports, etc.-I have to note some disturbing issues here.

1) Whether the mounted Officer was supposed to be in the off-leash area on horseback is unknown.  The dog seems to have initiated the contact.
2) The owner was never able to get his dog under control.
3) The dog not only made first contact, but pursued the horse and reengaged the horse repeatedly. This is not a fear reaction-this is pursuit of a prey target.
4) The dog did not just bite the closest target (the horse's feet).  The dog appears to have deliberately targeted the horse's abdomen, behavior consistent with the typical canine predatory motor sequence.  In other words, this particular dog acted in a species appropriate manner consistent with killing a larger prey animal.

So much as I hate to see any dog labelled dangerous, the behavior of the dog in this case, regardless of type or breed, makes this dog a threat. And ultimate responsibility here rests with the owner: had the owner simply had a reliable off-leash recall, none of this could have happened.  Once again, the human failed the dog.

Here is the media report from

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

US Overview of attacks for 2012-early edition

Although this is a little early to try and wrap up the year (and I will have a final tally after 12/31....but we can always hope that nothing happens through the holidays) I thought I would go over the dog bite related fatalities for 2012 and some of the numbers that break out.

The total as of today, 4 December, is thirty one (31) human deaths due to dog bite related injuries.  That does not include one reported death, that of a Postal Worker bitten by a dog in Ohio, because that death was due to a heart attack a number of days after the victim was treated and released from the hospital.  Now, I do sympathize with the victim and his family, and do see that the attack may have contributed to the overall stress on the victim, but until a Medical Examinaer rules that the proximate cause of death was due to dog attack then we will have to leave this particular tragedy chalked up to heart disease, a disease that affects far too many of us.

But back to dogs and humans.  Of the total of 31 human fatalities, 14 were adults.  Of those 14 adults, nine were aged 59 and over.  The youngest adult that died of dog related injuries was 23.

Seventeen children were killed in dog bite related incidents in 2012.  Of the 17, ALL of them were aged six or under.  Only three were over the age of two-there was a single six year old and two four year olds.

Of dogs involved, there were 14 different breeds or identified breed mixes.  The included the following:

Pit Bull type dogs
German Shepherd
Golden Retriever
Labrador Retriever
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Alapaha Blueblood Bulldog
American Bulldog
Presa Canario
Hound mix
Cane Corso

There were sevveral dogs that were unidentified: in one case the injuries were caused by a mixed pack of loose, feral dogs.  In one case, still under investigation, the dog is unidentified so far.

The dogs involved have been identified as from a scattering of backgrounds.  Eighteen dogs were described as family dogs.  Six dogs belonged to neighbors.  In one case the dogs were a pack of feral dogs, and in one case the dog is still undetermined (although the primary current suspect is a neighbor's dog).  One dog was known to be an unowned stray, and one dog was a resident dog-living on the property, tossed food from time to time, but not integrated into the family.  In three cases, shocking as it is, the dog(s) involved were dogs taken in by Rescuers.  In the one case I am directly familiar with the Rescuer knew about the prior aggressive behavior of the dog and appears to have let their heart override their head, taking on a dog that was too much for them.  The other cases seem to also be well intentioned people who got in over their skill level, which is why I am very wary when I hear about folks that are trying to "rescue" dogs that have previously shown clear human focused aggression.  I have worked with my share, but there are dogs that even I won't take.

So what does this tell us?

First off, it's KIDS, KIDS, KIDS!  Infants particulary.  As I have stressed in the past, too many of these are tragic but preventable accidents.  Little children should NOT be left unsupervised with a dog, PERIOD.  And that includes small dogs-the most recent fatality in the UK was an eight day old infant killed by a Jack Russell Terrier.  We have had our own cases of small dogs killing infants, cases that also include Jack Russells, Dachshunds, Beagles, and a Pomeranian.

Next, no surprise, is older folks.  Not to be mean here, as I am approaching the potential risk group myself-slowly-but those around 60 and over have a tough time weathering a serious injury, dog related or not.  Older folks are too often health compromised by any number of first-world problems here in the US, problems like heart issues, physical disabilities, increased vulnerability to injury and, due to longer lives, a larger likelihood of being physically unable to fight off a determined animal.

Who owns the dogs?  Usually, according to the numbers, the family of the person killed.  Next up is a close neighbor.  That relates directly to the number of children killed, since the family dog or the neighbor's dog are the two most likely dogs a child will encounter, especially an infant.  Dogs belonging to grandparents or other family not living with the child full time are the most likely of the family dogs to have a negative encounter, whether a full fatality or a simple dog bite.  This usually indicates a lack of frequent social contact between the dog and the particular child, coupled with a relaxation of supervision because the dog is seen as part of the family.

The stray factor?  Only one case involved known strays, the case of the roaming pack of feral dogs.  These attacks are really rare, so if you are not bitten by your own dog or your neighbor's dog you arre pretty much in the clear.  The idea of free-roaming killer strays is just not supported by the data.

The takeaway from this recap?


2) Your family dog is the most likely threat-and a threat you can do something about.  If your family pet shows aggressive behavior, especially if children are around, seek professional help.  Solve the problem before it solves your childcare issues.

3) There IS NO PARTICULAR KILLER DOG.  Any dog that has teeth can be a problem.  The issue is behavior, not breed.

4) With 31 deaths out of a US population of 300 million, dogs arre still safer than cars, boats, baloons and bathtubs.  Don't freak out.

And Rescuers, remember: Rescue and Rehabilitation is not a contest, or a proving ground for "bravery".  Don't let your heart override your skills.  There are too many dogs to save to take a risk on a dog that is a clear danger you are unprepared for.  Scars are not medals.  Caution is not a sign of weakness.