Pet Tales: The high price of dog bites

"How much is that doggie in the window? $30 K, if it bites. Pennsylvania is No. 5 for dog bites."

When that's the subject line, I have to read the email. It was sent by the State Farm insurance company, which is partnering with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Postal Service to reduce dog bites.

The average cost of a dog bite insurance claim is $30,000, which includes medical and legal expenses, said Dave Phillips, from State Farm's media office.

Pennsylvania was No. 5 in the number of claims filed with State Farm in 2012. There were 165 claims, and the company paid out $4.5 million. No. 1 was California with $17.1 million paid for 451 claims.

Nationally, State Farm paid more than $108 million for 3,670 dog bite claims (down from 3,750 in 2011). All insurers across the country paid nearly $489 million in dog bite claims in 2012, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Here's some good news: State Farm does not refuse to sell you an insurance policy because you own a certain breed of dog. Here's the bad news: "Under the right circumstances, any dog might bite," the release says.

If your dog bites someone, State Farm will not automatically raise your rates or cancel your policy. Mr. Phillips said "each claim is looked at individually." An important factor is determining whether the dog bite was provoked or unprovoked. If your dog has a history of multiple bites, you might have a problem, he concedes.

The Postal Service reports 5,879 mail carriers were bitten or attacked by dogs in 2012 (274 more than in 2011), but Pittsburgh did not make the "top 14" list. Philadelphia was fifth with 34 attacks, and Los Angeles was No. 1 with 69 attacks.

More than half of all dog bite victims are children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The partners in this campaign hope to educate the public. Many sites have tips, including and

Here are some AVMA tips:

• NEVER leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet.

• Don't run past a dog. By nature they love to chase.

• Never disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or taking care of puppies.

• If a dog approaches you, stay still. In most cases the dog will go away when it determines you are not a threat. Don't scream or yell. Avoid eye contact.

• Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep it healthy and provide mental stimulation.

• Get regular veterinary care and checkups. A sick or injured dog is more likely to bite.

Cicada warning

Cicadas are coming, as they do every 17 years. The insects "can be harmful if eaten in quantity," say experts at The Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

Veterinarian Brian Collins says people should "discourage your dog and cat from ingesting cicadas" because "the outer skeleton of the cicada contains a tough material called chitin," which is also found in lobster shells. "If enough are consumed, your companion animal may experience vomiting or constipation and require a visit to the veterinarian."

Looking for scofflaws

Pennsylvania dog wardens will be "canvassing" neighborhoods in Allegheny County all month, looking for dog owners who have not purchased dog licenses and owners who had not gotten rabies vaccinations for their dogs and cats. The news releases doesn't say exactly where they're going, but violators can face $300 fines plus court costs.

Dogs 3 months old and older must have a state dog license. The fee is $6.45 for spayed and neutered dogs and $8.45 for intact dogs. Older adults and persons with disabilities get a price break -- $4.45 and $6.45.

Cats are not required to be licensed, but non-feral cats older than 3 months must be vaccinated against rabies. So must puppies and dogs.

In Allegheny County, state dog licenses are sold by Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein. Call 412-350-4103 or go to to buy online.

For all Pennsylvania counties:

Pet party

The Petagogy store in Shadyside is celebrating its second anniversary with a party and pet vendor fair from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at 5880 Ellsworth Ave. Adoptable pets from Animal Rescue League will be there, and a raffle benefits the Larimer shelter. You can bring your own pets.

Free things include soft serve for dogs, pet photos by Jenny Karlsson Photography, and make-your-own dog and cat toys. Customers get 10 percent off all purchases. Reps from natural pet food and treat companies will be there.

Petagogy is owned by two local couples and their four dogs. Information: or 412-362-7387.

Panera Pup Walk

Take your dog for a walk and meet Charlie Batch and his wife, Latasha, while raising money for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. The walk is June 9 at The Waterfront in Homestead, Mr. Batch's hometown. Registration is 9 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m., led by the Batches. People walk for free, but dogs pay a $25 fee.

There'll be gift bags for the first 300 registrants, adoptable dogs from the shelter, and goodies for people and dogs.

Last year the event, also headed by Mr. Batch, raised more than $26,000. A rescue Rottweiler named Roxie walked with him although she had been diagnosed with lymphoma three months before the walk. Treatments worked well for a while, but on Nov. 29 Roxie died.

Charlie and Latasha Batch pose on Pup Walk posters with their personal pets: two bichon frise, two pit bulls and two Shiba Inu. Roxie was in the poster last year, and she's not forgotten this year. Her collar is in the poster, front and center, in front of the Steelers quarterback who loved her.

Remembrance service

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair has a pet ministry, and the next event is a Remembrance Service for pets that have died. The service is June 9, 2-3 p.m. in the North Courtyard, 2040 Washington Road, 15241. Pets are welcome.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.