Most dog bites are avoidable
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They are called man's best friend for a reason.
Their loyal, affectionate and playful nature make dogs great pets.
Only in extreme cases have dogs been known to attack humans.
And when attacks do occur, such encounters are rarely fatal and are largely preventable, according to the experts who track the cases.
In any given year in the United States, 12 to 16 people are bitten and killed in attacks by a dog or by multiple dogs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has been tracking dog bites since the 1970s, and officials say the numbers have not been increasing. Each year, about 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites, and 386,000 of them require treatment in a hospital emergency department, the CDC notes.
Nearly half of all dog-bite victims are children under the age of 12, with children ages 5 to 9 at greatest risk, the CDC reports.
The rare instance of a "killer dog" hit close to home last Monday when an 8-year-old girl was killed by a Rottweiler-mix in Beaver County. The body of Brianna Shanor was found in a trailer, where the dog was kept chained by owner William J. Renda of Hanover. State police did not charge Mr. Renda, who is a friend of the girl's mother, because they said the dog was properly restrained. Reports indicate the girl had been told to stay away from the dog.
Two other local incidents occurred within the past decade:
In July 2006 in Westmoreland County, Sandra L. Piovesan, 50, bled to death after being mauled by a pack of nine wolf-dog mixes she had raised as pets. Her body was found in a fenced enclosure where she kept the animals.
And in March 2003 in Clarion County, 2-year-old Lily Krajewski was killed by two Rottweilers owned by her uncle, Roger Hansen, 36, of Lucinda. The girl was walking in the woods nearby when the dogs attacked. Her grandmother, Kathleen Hansen, tried to pull the dogs off the child but was unable to do so.
In Allegheny County, there have been no fatal dog attacks in the last 34 years, said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the county Health Department.
Reported dog bites have been holding steady at 1,100 to 1,200 per year, he said. Doctors and other medical providers are required to report them to the Health Department when they treat a dog bite victim.
"Reported bites are everything from a scratch to injuries that require stitches," said Mr. Cole, who could not recall any serious, life-threatening attacks.
A large percentage of dogs that bite "are un-neutered male dogs, that spend most or all of their lives chained and are not up-to-date on inoculations," said veterinarian Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University.
Experts said it's the responsibility of pet owners and others who are around dogs to prevent any attacks.
"There are very few public health crises that can truly be cured by public awareness and education, but dog bites are one of them," according to the American Veterinary Medical Association Web site. The "suffering, injury, disability and mortality is completely unnecessary. It's up to people, not dogs, to stop dog bites."
Dr. Beaver, immediate past president of the AVMA, emphasized that education is the key.
"Dog owners need to learn how to make their dogs good citizens," and that means training pets and teaching them to behave properly around people and other animals, Dr. Beaver said.
"The victims that are bitten most often are children. Children need to learn how to behave around dogs. And if parents would learn to never leave children unattended around dogs," the number of dog bites would decrease dramatically, she said.
"Many shelters do a great job" by offering training classes for dogs and their owners, Dr. Beaver said.
Local shelters and dog training clubs offer such classes as well as programs for schools and youth organizations where children are taught how to treat dogs, how to act around them and how to avoid being bitten or attacked.
Tips from the CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association include: ask permission from the dog owner before petting any dog; let a strange dog sniff you before touching it, and then pet gently, avoiding the dog's face, head and tail.
If confronted by a hostile dog, remain calm and avoid eye contact. Stand still or back away slowly until the dog leaves. If knocked down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your arms.
Other organizations that provide campaigns and programs aimed at reducing dog bites include the U.S. Postal Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2007, about 3,000 postal employees, nationwide, were bitten by dogs, according to the Postal Service.
For more information, visit www.avma.org and www.cdc.gov.
First Published January 26, 2009 12:00 am