by Merritt Clifton
Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015, May 17-23, was announced by the American Humane Association on May 14, 2015––the same day that former child care provider Jena Wright, 26, of Prairie City, Iowa, was convicted of four criminal offenses in connection with the April 2013 fatal pit bull mauling of four-year-old Jordyn Arndt.
The pit bull had been raised among small children since puppyhood by members of Wright’s household.
Found guilty of child endangerment resulting in serious injury, neglect of a dependent person, assault not causing bodily injury, and interference with official acts causing bodily injury, Wright was scheduled to be sentenced on July 13, 2015.
Wright could receive up to 20 years in prison.
State Farm vs. other insurers
Said the American Humane Association media release for Dog Bite Prevention Week, “In 2013, State Farm paid nearly $115 million as a result of 3,500 dog-related injury claims. Over the past five years, the insurer has paid $528 million for claims resulting from accidents involving a dog.”
The American Humane Association did not mention that State Farm is among the few major U.S. insurance groups that cover pit bulls without breed-specific restrictions. Thirteen major insurance groups do not insure pit bulls at all.
All U.S. insurers combined in 2013 collectively paid out more than $483 million to settle 17,369 claims resulting from dog attacks.
State Farm, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissions, has a property-and-casualty insurance market share of 10.28%. But State Farm, handling 20% of the total dog attack claims, issued 23.8% of the payouts.
The American Humane Association noted that according to the Insurance Information Institute, dog attack payouts in 2014 increased to $530 million. The 9% increase in payouts paralleled a 7% increase in fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks.
“According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons there was a 6% increase in reconstructive procedures to repair injuries from dog bites over the past year,” the American Humane Association acknowledged.
This was no mere coincidence.
Reported surgeons Barry L. Eppley of Indiana University Health North Hospital, Carmel, and Arno Rene Schelich of Hans Privatklinikum, Graz, Austria, in the March 2013 edition of the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, “From 1995 to 2005, Dr. Eppley treated 105 children with dog bits of the face, scalp, and neck…In 95% of cases, the dog was known to the patient and family — belonging either to the family or to a friend, neighbor, etc. When the breed was known, the most common was pit bull, followed by chow, German shepherd, and Doberman.”
The Eppley and Schelich findings echoed those of Texas trauma surgeons John K. Bini, Stephen M. Cohn, and colleagues, published in 2011 in the Annals of Surgery:
“Our Trauma and Emergency Surgery Services treated 228 patients with dog bite injuries; for 82 of those patients, the breed of dog involved was recorded (29 were injured by pit bulls). Compared with attacks by other breeds of dogs, attacks by pit bulls were associated with a higher median Injury Severity Scale score, a higher risk of an admission, higher median hospital charges, and a higher risk of death. Strict regulation of pit bulls,” Bini and Cohn recommended, “may substantially reduce the U.S. mortality rates related to dog bites.”
Bini and Cohn in turn echoed Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia surgeons Alison Kaye, Jessica Belz, and Richard Kirschner, who reported in the August 2009 edition of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, “More than 30 different offending breeds were documented in the medical records [of the hospital]. The most common breeds included pit bull terriers (50.9%), Rottweilers (8.9%), and mixed breeds of the two aforementioned breeds (6%).
“There’s no place for pit bulls or Rottweilers around children,” Children’s Healthcare surgeon-in-chief and Emory University associate professor Mark Wulkan told Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March 2013.
“Life Flight dogs”
But the American Humane Association did not cite any of these physicians’ body of research and experience.
Instead, continued the AHA Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015 media release, “American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery President Gregory R. D. Evans says, ‘Prevention of these serious injuries is an important responsibility of dog owners as well as parents. Injuries to the face and hands can be disfiguring or disabling and require prompt, expert medical attention.’”
This is true. For this reason, Occupy Maul Street blogger Dawn James suggested in November 2013 that pit bulls should be called “Life Flight dogs,” listing 277 instances in which pit bull attack victims were airlifted to save their lives and limbs, at average cost of $18,000 per flight.
Founded in 1877, the American Humane Association has since 1878 had parallel animal and child protection divisions, making it the oldest national child protection society in the U.S. as well as the oldest national animal charity.
Dog Bite Prevention Week is among several American Humane Association-sponsored annual events, beginning in 1915 with Be Kind to Animals Week. The first annual event organized nationally on behalf of animals, this event honors “Be Kind to Animals Kids.”
American Humane Association indifference toward the breed-specific aspects of dog attacks was made gruesomely obvious by the presentation of the 2009 grand prize in the ages 6-12 division to Annie Lee Vankleeck, age 6, of Shokan, New York.
Out of the Pits
Explained the American Humane Association announcement of the award, distributed two weeks before Dog Bite Prevention Week 2009, “‘Every chance she gets, Annie tries to help pit bulls,'” said her mother, Sharon. After finding out that Out of the Pits, a nonprofit pit bull rescue in Albany, needed gently used blankets and towels, Annie made it her mission to fulfill that need.”
The American Humane Association announcement did not describe Vankleeck working directly with the Out of the Pits dogs. But it did establish that she has contact with at least one pit bull: “She is keenly aware that people can be prejudiced against or afraid of pit bulls, so she will not bring her pet pit bull, Ike, to show and tell at school.”
Out of the Pits was begun in 1996 by Cydney Cross, a former adoption counselor and shelter manager for the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society in Cohoes, New York.
Out of the Pits has received mostly favorable media coverage, but a photo published on October 29, 2008 by the Albany Times Union depicted an Out of the Pits event of a sort that many shelters would not encourage no matter what kind of dogs were used.
Described the caption, “Olivia Moody, 8, gets a little love from Piggly Wiggly at a kissing booth set up by Out of the Pits, a local pit bull education and rescue organization in front of Sloppy Kisses pet boutique on Broadway in Saratoga Springs… Sisters Skyler and Paige Rosewell, both 6, and Sean Rosewell, 3, visit with Toby at the kissing booth, which was set up to mark National Pit Bull Awareness Day.”
The event was also mentioned by The Saratogian, of Saratoga Springs.
Josephine Ramsay, 52, circa August 2008 adopted a three-month-old pit bull puppy from Out of the Pits. Early on the evening of April 16, 2009 the pit bull inflicted facial injuries to Ramsay’s nephew, Frankie Flora, age 5, of Wappingers Falls, New York, that reportedly required more than 1,000 stitches to close. Ramsay herself was also injured.
“At the time of announcing the award winners,” said then-American Humane Association executive director Marie Belew Wheatley, “we were unaware of the terrible attack in New York.”
But nominations for the 2009 Be Kind to Animals Kid contest closed on April 15, 2009, barely 24 hours before Frankie Flora was attacked, and two weeks before the award was announced. That the dog was adopted from Out of the Pits was mentioned by WABC television news on April 18, 2009, and reported by the Poughkeepsie Journal on April 22, 2009.
Original AHA bite prevention tips
The American Humane periodical National Humane Review in July/August 1961 devoted an entire page to six recommendations from World Health about “How to prevent 50% of dog bites”:
1) Don’t give a dog to a child under age six. This might prevent 18% of bites.
2) Discourage playing ball with a dog, riding a bicycle near an excited dog, and running while playing with a dog if it excites him. This might prevent 10% of bites.
3) Don’t wake a dog suddenly. Be careful of the mother when picking up her puppies and be careful with sick animals. Perhaps 3% of bites avoided.
4) Teach children how to care for pets and not to abuse or tease dogs.
5) Don’t pet or startle a dog while feeding him. Don’t take food away from a dog.
Don’t intervene in a dog fight. Perhaps 10% of bites prevented.
6) Avoid holding your face next to a dog’s so as to prevent serious bite wounds.
Recommendations have evolved
This advice has expanded over the years. While still sidestepping the pit bull issue, the current American Humane Association recommendations continue to make clear that the Out of the Pits procedures––and those of many other organizations promoting pit bull adoptions––contradict best safety practice.
Said the Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015 media release, “To reduce the number of injuries to people and the risk of relinquishment of dogs that bite, American Humane Association offers the following suggestions:
- Never approach an unknown dog or a dog that is alone without an owner, and always ask for permission before petting the dog.
- Never approach an injured animal – find an adult who can get the help s/he needs
- Never approach a dog that is eating, sleeping or nursing puppies.
- Don’t poke, hit, pull, pinch or tease a dog.
For Dog Owners:
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet.
- Interactions between children and dogs should always be monitored to ensure the safety of both your child and your dog.
- Teach your children to treat the dog with respect and not to engage in rough or aggressive play.
- Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
- Never put your dog in a position where s/he feels threatened.
- Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep him/her healthy and to provide mental stimulation.
- Use a leash in public to ensure you are able to control your dog.
- Regular veterinary care is essential to maintain your dog’s health; a sick or injured dog is more likely to bite.
- Be alert, if someone approaches you and your dog – caution them to wait before petting the dog, give your pet time to be comfortable with a stranger.”
“Prevent The Bite” survey
The Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015 media release also mentioned that “Prevent The Bite did a survey of 710 children on 12 key things to do and not to do in various situations with dogs. Not a single child answered all twelve correctly. Here are the top five results:
If a dog is chasing you, should you try to run away? Just 53% knew the answer was No.
- Are there only certain breeds (or types) of dogs that bite? Only 47% knew the answer was No.
- Does an angry dog ever wag his tail? 33% knew the correct answer was Yes.
- Is a dog that is afraid as dangerous as an angry dog? Only 27% knew the answer was Yes.
- Do dogs like to be kissed and hugged? A dangerously low number, only 24%, were correct – NO!”
The Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015 media release also mentioned that “The U.S. Postal Service reports that 5,767 postal employees were attacked by dogs in 2014 – up from 5,581 in 2013. Children, the elderly, and postal carriers are the most frequent victims of dog bites.”
Preventing dog attacks has been recognized as a duty of government throughout recorded history. Before 1955, however, this was mostly in the contexts of protecting livestock and preventing rabies.
Except during rabies outbreaks, dogs and dog bites appear to have been little feared. Yet if most of what is generally believed to lead to dog bites today had led to bites 50 years ago and earlier, the incidence of bites should have been exponentially higher than now.
Most Americans, like most other people, lived in constant proximity to free-roaming dogs, many of them unfamiliar. Of the 32 million dogs in the U.S. circa 1955, according to National Family Opinion survey cofounders Howard and Clara Trumbull, who wrote as John Marbanks, about 30% were street dogs, who lived much as many dogs still do in the developing world.
Under 1% of all dogs were sterilized, as of 1960, when sterilization frequency first was studied. In consequence, about 90% of the dogs in the U.S. were mongrels, and about six million surplus puppies per year were among the eight million dogs per year killed by animal shelters.
By far the most bites were inflicted by bitches defending litters. Of the dogs who had homes, half or more were allowed to wander. Tethering, now known to make dogs more territorial and dangerous, was the chief means of confinement.
Bite prevention as we know it today was rarely discussed.
6,000 bitten, then & now
But in 1956 then-U.S. Postmaster Arthur E. Summerfield took notice that 6,000 mail carriers were bitten on the job the year before. Summerfield in June 1956 convened a conference in Washington D.C. to introduce the notion of preventing dog bites. The chief executives of the American Humane Association, American SPCA, American Kennel Club, and Popular Dogs magazine were invited to share their ideas.
“The conference developed two major thoughts,” summarized the National Humane Review, the monthly periodical of the American Humane Association. “One, educate the owners to their responsibilities and encourage them to have more obedient dogs and, two, to give safety training to letter carriers on how to behave with strange dogs.”
Almost the same number of mail carriers were bitten in 2014 as in 1955. But the 130,000 mail carriers working in 1955 walked an average of eight miles per day, encountering about 35 free-roaming dogs per day. The 75,000 mail carriers working today walk an average of five miles per day, encountering fewer than six dogs per day–and most of those are leashed. Nonetheless, while 4.5% of mail carriers were bitten on the job in 1955, 8% were bitten in 2014.
The Dog Bite Prevention Week approach clearly is not working.
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