In our journalism and our conversations, we tend to talk about things in isolation, focusing on what’s happening right now and failing to connect the dots. The present outrage becomes our complete obsession; the countless frustrations that telegraphed it fade from view.
– Frank Bruni, New York Times, 10/5/13
DOG BITE-RELATED FATALITIES ARE EXCEEDINGLY RARE.
Dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) have always been exceedingly rare, but often seem more frequent than they are because of the publicity that they provoke. The annual total of DBRFs has risen and fallen with no discernible pattern or trend, even as the human and canine populations have increased.
DEFINITION AND ANALYSIS OF DBRFs.
NCRC is currently investigating 31 incidents that occurred during 2013 which may qualify as DBRFs. A list appears at the end of this preliminary report. (By way of comparison, in 2011, the last year for which Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data is presently available, there were 15,953 homicides and 38,285 suicides.)
The verified number of DBRFs in 2013 will appear in the final version of this report which will be released when all the cases have been fully investigated. We define a DBRF as a death resulting from the mechanical trauma of a dog bite. We do not include persons dying of causes such as infection following a dog bite or other trauma associated with a dog-related incident (e.g., a fall). The cases will be analyzed according to the methodology described in the ten-year study published this December in the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) and discussed more fully below. NCRC’s final report will add the verified results from the 2013 cases to the totals dating from 2000, in order to offer a broad perspective, and to prevent focus on short-term fluctuations that are misleading in sample sizes as small as the annual number of DBRFs.
FACTORS PRESENT IN 2000-2009 DBRFs IDENTIFIED
In December 2013, JAVMA published the most comprehensive multifactorial study of DBRFs to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970’s. Covering all incidents that occurred during the ten-year period 2000 – 2009, it is based on investigative techniques and data developed by NCRC not previously employed in dog bite or DBRF studies. The study reliably identifies seven factors potentially within the control of dog owners and caretakers that co-occurred, in various combinations, in the overwhelming majority of DBRFs the authors examined.
Cases from 2000-2009 with this factor present
|No able-bodied person being present to intervene.
|The victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s).
|The owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s).
|A victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s).
|The owner keeping dog(s) as resident, rather than as a family pet.
|The owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s).
|The owner’s abuse or neglect of the dog(s).
The study, as had DBRF studies published previously, found no evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog.
THESE FACTORS CO-OCCUR: THERE IS NO SINGLE CAUSE
Four or more of the factors identified co-occurred in 80.5% of the incidents during the 10-year period studied. Only very rarely (in 2.5% of the cases) was there only one factor identified. Serious and fatal dog bite incidents are complex, multifactorial events.
THIS CODING METHOD IDENTIFIES OPPORTUNITIES FOR PREVENTION
The authors of the JAVMA paper – a veterinary epidemiologist, a medical epidemiologist (Dr. Jeffrey Sacks, who was lead author on earlier studies of DBRFs), a veterinary behaviorist, and two NCRC staff members — recommend their coding method to improve the quantity and quality of data compiled in future investigations of any dog bite-related injuries. This offers an excellent opportunity for policy makers, physicians, journalists, indeed, anyone concerned with the prevention of dog bite-related injuries, to develop an understanding of the multifactorial nature of both serious and fatal incidents.
NCRC CONSULTS SOURCES MORE COMPLETE, VERIFIABLE, AND ACCURATE THAN MEDIA ACCOUNTS
Published news reports may conflict with each other, or contain substantive, even egregious errors. The CBS affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, accompanied its report of a dog bite-related fatality in November with a photograph of the two dogs supposedly involved. The photo had been obtained from a Facebook page, and was not a picture of the dogs involved!
NCRC contacts officials in each case, re-interviewing media sources and locating others including police investigators, animal control officers, coroners, veterinarians, health department officials, dog owners, and eye witnesses. We examine official reports which often do not agree with news accounts including incident reports, bite reports, human and animal autopsy reports, and crime scene data and photographs. Not all are available with respect to every case, but many cases are subjects of extensive official investigations, and allow us to supplement or correct media reports with relevant, material information in over 90% of these incidents.
FAMILY DOGS ARE RARELY INVOLVED.
The news media frequently described the dogs as “family” dogs. However, our preliminary investigations of incidents that occurred in 2013 are consistent with our findings dating back to 2000. The majority of dogs were not family pets, but “resident” dogs – isolated from positive human interaction, often kept alone on chains, in junk-yards, in basements, or left to roam unattended.** The data in the chart below is taken from the JAVMA paper reporting on DBRFs from 2000-2009.
“Dogs cannot be characterized without humans”
- Dorit U. Feddersen-Peterson
Department of Zoology, University of Kiel
SUMMARY: IMPROVE COMMUNITY SAFETY BY IMPROVING DOG OWNERSHIP PRACTICES.
The interactions between dogs and humans are so numerous and complex that no one factor can possibly be considered the sole cause of a serious or fatal incident. And it is certainly important to remember that for every dog that injured someone and who had been denied a positive human relationship, untold numbers similarly kept injured no one.
NCRC’s mission is to preserve the human-canine bond. These rare tragedies are a result of the co-occurrence of multiple factors potentially within the control of dog owners. As such, they serve as a reminder that all dog owners are responsible for humane care (providing proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), humane custody (licensing and providing permanent ID) and humane control (following leash laws and not allowing pets to become threats or nuisances to the community).
“The whole model is about responsible pet ownership.”
- Bill Bruce, former Executive Director,
Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services
DBRFs REPORTED IN 2013 – PENDING ANALYSIS
Jan. 8: Betty Chapman Todd, 65 yrs., Greenwood, SC
Jan. 19: Christian Gormanous, 4 yrs., Montgomery, TX
Feb. 8: Elsie Grace, 91 yrs., Riverside, CA
Feb. 16: Isaiah Aguilar, 2 yrs., Uvalde, TX
Mar. 2: Ryan Maxwell, 7 yrs., Knox, IL
Mar. 6: Daxton Borchardt, 14 mo., Walworth, WI
Mar. 17: Monica Laminack, 21 mo., Bryan, GA, criminal charges
Apr. 2: Tyler Jett, 7 yrs., Bay, FL, criminal charges
Apr. 11: Claudia Gallardo, 38 yrs., San Joaquin, CA, criminal charges
Apr. 22: Jordyn Arndt, 4 yrs., Jasper, IA, criminal charges
Apr. 24: Beau Rutledge, 2 yrs., Fulton, GA
Apr. 30: Rachael Honabarger, 35 yrs., Coshocton, OH
May 8: Carlton Freeman, 80 yrs., Dorchester, SC
May 9: Pamela Marie Devitt, 63 yrs., Los Angeles, CA, criminal charges
Jun. 9: Ayden Evans, 5 yrs., Garland, AR
Jun. 17: Nephi Selu, 6 yrs., Alameda, CA
Jun. 25: Arianna Merrbach, 5 yrs., Florence, SC
Jul. 1: Linda Oliver, 63 yrs., Liberty, TX
Sept. 13: Jordan Lee Reed, 5 yrs., Kotzebue, AK
Sept. 22: Daniel “Doe,” 2 yrs., Maricopa, AZ
Sept. 23: Samuel Zamudio, 2 yrs., San Bernardino, CA, criminal charges
Sept. 27: Jordan Ryan, 5 yrs., Baker, OR
Oct. 30: Nga Woodhead, 65 yrs., Pierce, WA
Nov. 1: Terry Douglass, 56 yrs., Baltimore, MD
Nov 5: Katherine Atkins, 25 yrs., Forsyth, NC
Nov. 8: Levi Watson, 4 yrs., White, AR
Nov. 21: Joan Kappen, 75 yrs., Hot Springs, AR
Dec. 7: Jah’niyah White, 2 yrs., Chicago, IL, ruled a homicide
Dec. 10: Mia Gibson, 2 mos., Franklin, OH
Dec. 13: Michal Nelson, 41 yrs., Valencia County, NM
Dec. 28: Thomas Vick, 64 yrs., Bullhead City, AZ
** Resident dogs are dogs, whether confined within a dwelling or otherwise, whose owners maintain them in ways that isolate them from regular, positive human interactions. The isolation and lack of exposure to the family unit results in the display of behaviors different from Family dogs. Family dogs are dogs whose owners keep them in or near the home and also integrate them into the family unit, so that the dogs learn appropriate behavior through interaction with humans on a regular basis in positive and humane ways.
31 December 2013
 Hoyert, D.L. & Xu, J. (2012). Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Reports, 61(6). Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_06.pdf
 Patronek, G.J., Sacks, J.J., Delise, K.M., Cleary, D.V., & Marder, A.R. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(12), 1726-1736. Retrieved from: http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.243.12.1726
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