By Darla Shelden
According to the Center for Disease Control, education is key to reducing dog biting incidents. Each year 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs, and one-in-five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention.
A report by the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) on dog bite-related fatalities occurring in 2011 stresses the need for increased awareness of the importance of humane care and control of dogs. It found that the enactment and enforcement of leash laws and dog bite prevention education has been instrumental in lowering the number of reported dog-related injuries nationwide.
The report also shows that nearly a third of the owners of dogs involved in the 2011 incidents were charged with crimes including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.
NCRC indicated there was persuasive evidence of owner abuse and neglect of the dogs implicated in many cases. The study revealed instances of animal isolation, confining the dogs on chains, failing to provide medical treatment, or allowing them to run loose, despite neighbor complaints.
Christy Counts, Central Oklahoma Humane Society president said, “The evidence is overwhelming that proper socialization as well as spaying/neutering is critical to maintaining a safe population of dogs in our community. Chained up dogs and backyard dogs not included in daily family life quickly become a hazard to public safety.”
Over the past 48 years there have been 18 dog bite-related fatalities in Oklahoma. The victims were 5 adults and 13 children.
Catherine English, OKC Animal Welfare Division superintendent said, “Dogs are social animals who need positive interaction with people. Chaining frustrates dogs and leaves them vulnerable to abuse, deprivation and attacks by people and other animals.
“Frustration can become depression and/or aggression, and can result in fear biting and overly defensive behavior that cause attacks,” said English. “Fencing or kenneling dogs with frequent playtime, or training dogs to live indoors, are the best options for controlling dogs. They result in well-behaved pets that are emotionally stable and safe.”
NCRC distinguishes between a resident dog and a family dog. They describe resident dogs as those isolated from regular, positive human interactions.
Karen Delise, NCRC’s Founder and Director of Research said, “Family dogs are integrated into the family unit and afforded the opportunity to learn appropriate behaviors through positive and humane interaction with people on a regular basis.”
Sixty eight percent of the fatal incidents in 2011 involved resident dogs, not dogs maintained as family pets.
“Many cases involved extensive investigation by local authorities,” said Delise. “Important information relative to the dogs, owners and victims was not available until the completion of those investigations. The more deeply one examines these incidents, the more likely one is to appreciate their complexity.”
Delise added, “These rare tragedies remind us that all dog owners have an unequivocal responsibility for the humane care including proper diet, veterinary care, socialization, training, custody and control of their dogs.”
Tracy Lyons, OKC Animal Welfare Unit Operations supervisor said, “All children and adults should learn how to keep themselves safe around dogs. Avoid dogs that appear to be compromised from illness or injury and it is important to learn to recognize when a dog is agitated or scared.”
Ann Church, ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) vice president of state affairs said, “Tethering is a public safety issue as well as an animal welfare issue. When coupled with the proper enforcement of animal cruelty and animal fighting laws, restrictions on tethering have been shown to reduce dog attacks and dog aggression.”
A free 25-minute online training course covering canine aggression, basics of canine communication, and dog bite prevention is available at www.aspcapro.org/online-cruelty-training-courses.php.
The OKC Animal Welfare website states that Oklahoma City has a zero tolerance for both cruelty to animals and animal neglect. Violators can be arrested and/or cited, and their neglected or cruelly treated pets can be confiscated.
Counts added, “If we take care of our canine friends and make them part of our family, then they will show us the same love and respect in return.”