Total reported disfiguring dog attacks for the first time topped 1,000
A record 1,075 dogs, including an also-record 741 pit bulls (69%), participated in attacks disfiguring 631 Americans and Canadians in 2016, according to the breed-specific log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks kept by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton since 1982.
Of the disfigured dog attack victims in 2016, 576 (91%) were disfigured by pit bulls.
Attacks up, but deaths down?
Yet dog attack fatalities in the U.S. and Canada plunged from the 2015 record 46, with 34 inflicted by pit bulls, to just 36 in 2016, only 28 by pit bulls.
What does this paradox mean? Just luck and random fluctuation. Often the difference between a severe mauling and a fatality is a matter of seconds in intervention time and millimeters in whether a tooth strikes an artery.
Improved first responder care of dog attack victims, more emergency personnel becoming more experienced in handling dog attacks, better training for first responders, and improved hospital emergency room care of victims all could be credited for the apparent greater rate of success in saving the people who have been most seriously injured by dogs before getting help.
But with due respect to first responders and the emergency room physicians who try to hold victims together before they bleed out, the laws of chance may have just as much to do with the reduced numbers of deaths in 2016..
2016 deaths equalled 10-year average
The 36 total dog attack fatalities and 28 pit bull fatalities in 2016 were both close to the average number of deaths per year for the preceding 10 years, and might be seen as reflecting a return to the statistical norm, after record numbers of dog attack deaths occurred in three out of four years, 2012-2015.
Also of note, dog attack and pit bull attack deaths both dropped in 2011, after three consecutive years of record fatalities, even as the number of disfigurements soared 35% above the previous high and have continued to rapidly increase.
Fatalities are just the most extreme outcome of dog attacks. Because fatalities are relatively few, the totals for any given year are subject to wide swings in random chance, not seen in the total attack and disfigurement data.
Record attacks on children
Altogether in 2016, a record 356 children were involved in dog attacks in which at least one human victim was killed or disfigured. Of those children, 235––more than in any other year except 2014, and two-thirds of the total––were attacked by pit bulls.
The 2014 record was 264.
Record attacks on adults
Also in 2016, a record 487 adults were involved in dog attacks in which at least one human victim was killed or disfigured. For the sixth consecutive year the number of adult victims exceeded the number of child victims, a phenomenon not seen in any previous year, but coinciding with rapidly rising numbers of pit bull attacks on adults.
Before 2010, pit bulls had never killed or disfigured a combined total of more than 56 adults in one year. From 2010 through 2015, the number of adult pit bull victims increased from 80 to 354, before leveling off in 2016 at 348 (71% of the total number of adult dog attack victims).
Final totals may rise
The difference between 354 and 348 is so slight that 2016 might eventually be found to have brought yet another record number of pit bull attacks on adults. Late-reported attacks might make up the difference, or some of the 69 dogs involved in four fatalities and 51 disfiguring attacks, who were not identified by breed type by authorities and eyewitnesses, may be found to be pit bulls in subsequent legal proceedings.
For example, Valente Lopez Aguirre, 59, and Robert Simonian, 74, were found dead from drowning in irrigation canals with extensive dog bites on their bodies in the same part of Fresno, California, on April 14, 2016 and July 7, 2016, respectively. Only many months later were the three dogs who allegedly killed both men identified as pit bulls––who had in fact been impounded from owner Harold Matthews, 70, after the first fatal attack, but were returned to Matthews before the second.
Also possible is that the number of dog attack and pit bull attack fatalities in 2016 may rise as result of late-arriving information. This occurred in 2015, when ANIMALS 24-7 initially reported 33 pit bull fatalities, but learned in November 2016 from a lawsuit filed by survivors of Donald Cox, 79, of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania against five alleged pit bull custodians that Cox had died from complications of a February 2015 attack in which he was previously known only to have lost a finger.
Women mauled by pit bulls in December 2016 in Lauderhill, Florida, and Marston’s Mills, Massachusetts, were still in critical condition at last report. The Lauderhill victim, Yasmin Adam, was reportedly a pit bull advocate and rescuer who was injured by her own dogs at her nephew’s apartment.
The Marston’s Mills victim, said to have suffered “amputation” of the lower part of her face, has not been identified.
Last reported to be “critical but stable” and “expected to survive” was Maria Schaffer, 33, of Rochester, New York, who lost an arm in a pit bull attack on the last day of November 2016.
Montreal death led to legislation
The most publicized dog attack fatality of 2016 was Christiane Vadnais, 55, of the Pointe-aux-Trembles borough of Montreal. Vadanis was in June 2016 killed by a neighbor’s pit bull who had invaded her back yard. Her death led to passage of a ban on pit bulls throughout Montreal.
The pit bull owner, Franklin Junior Frontal, had registered the dog as a “boxer” to evade a pit bull ban that was already in effect in the borough of Anjou, La Presse investigative reporter Marie Claude Malboeuf discovered. Registering the pit bull as a boxer led to widespread claims, still amplified by pit bull advocates, that the dog was not a pit bull.
Five previous fatalities included framing of a victim’s mother
Some pit bull advocates also contended that Vadnais was the first pit bull fatality in Canada, overlooking at least five others, including Kathleen Green, 78, a First Nations elder in Kamloops, British Columbia, who was killed in her yard by a tethered pit bull on January 30, 2016.
The actual first known pit bull fatality in Canada was Joseph Peters, 22, of Toronto, Ontario, on August 15, 1995.
The second known pit bull fatality in Canada was Sharon Reynolds, 7, of Kingston, Ontario, on June 12, 1997. Her mother, Louise Reynolds, was wrongly charged with stabbing her, and spent three and a half years in jail before she was cleared by the combination of forensic evidence indicting the dog and the discovery that the author of the original pathology report had misrepresented evidence in many cases.