63 years of “Dog Bite Prevention Week” coincided with decades of denial of breed-specific realities & ever-rising mayhem
NEW YORK CITY–– Insurance Information Institute data released to mark “Dog Bite Awareness Week” 2020, April 12-19, shows just a 5% rise in the total number of damage claims filed by victims of dog attacks, 2003-2019, but a 134% rise over the same years in the average payout for a dog attack and a 150% increase in total payouts.
Altogether, dog attack insurance payouts in 2019 totaled $797 million, $122 million more than ever before. The 17,802 insurance claims made for dog attack injuries in 2019 were fewer than in 2016 and 2017, though more than in 2018, but the $44,760 average payout was also a record high.
“Dog Bite Awareness Week” is the same event that until 2020 was called “Dog Bite Prevention Week” and was annually celebrated in May.
Why the name change?
Absent any official explanation for the name change and change of dates, “Dog Bite Prevention Week” appears to have been retitled because in 64 years it has not actually accomplished any net reduction in dog bites.
Arthur E. Summerfield, then U.S. postmaster general, declared the first “Dog Bite Prevention Week” in 1956, after observing that 6,000 mail carriers had been bitten on the job in 1955––comparable to the 5,800 mail carriers bitten on the job in 2019, but mail carriers in 1955 did nearly twice as much actual walking.
Summerfield’s first mistake may have been asking the American Humane Association to help promote “Dog Bite Prevention Week,” apparently unaware that the AHA even then had already been trying to deny the breed-specific realities of severely damaging dog attacks for 20 years.
Six decades of failure
The estimated 611,000 dog bite victims per year in the U.S. as of 1960, according to early Dog Bite Prevention Week literature, gradually ballooned to 4.5 million by 2000, a figure which Dog Bite Prevention Week media releases now have not updated in 20 years.
“Since 1960,” the Insurance Information Institute says of itself, “we have been the trusted source of unique, data-driven insights on insurance to inform and empower consumers. We serve consumers, media and professionals seeking insurance information.”
Partnering with the Insurance Information Institute to promote “Dog Bite Awareness Week,” as in the last several years that it was “Dog Bite Prevention Week,” are the State Farm insurance company, the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Humane, and the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior.
Inflation not the reason for higher payouts
Why have total payouts for dog attacks increased 30 times faster than dog attacks themselves?
The average insurance payout for a dog attack in 2003 was $19,162, worth $26,880 in 2020 U.S. dollars. Even adjusted for inflation, the $44,760 average insurance payout for a dog attack in 2019 represented a 40% increase.
Dog demographics furnish a better clue to why the payouts are markedly up.
About 61.6 million dogs lived in the U.S. as of 2003, according to a Humane Society of the U.S. estimate, of whom 1.8% were pit bulls, according to ANIMALS 24-7 data collected from classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption.
That put the U.S. pit bull population in 2003 at 985,600: about one million.
Pit bulls in 2003 killed a then-record 13 Americans.
About 77 million dogs live in the U.S. as of 2020, according to the InfoGraphic distributed by the “Dog Bite Awareness Week” 2020 publicists. This is about 20% more dogs than in 2003.
But now 5.8% of the U.S. dog population are pit bulls, again according to ANIMALS 24-7 data collected from classified ads offering dogs for sale or adoption.
This puts the current U.S. pit bull population at about 4.5 million.
Of the total increase in the U.S. dog population of about 15.4 million, pit bulls accounted for nearly 23%
Pit bulls killed 33 Americans in 2019, consistent with a five-year average of 33.6.
“A disturbing trend”
Though “Dog Bite Awareness Week” literature has never made the breed-specific connection, instead merely reciting the cant that “Any dog can bite,” medical literature clearly indicts pit bulls for the soaring cost of dog attacks.
From “Dog-Bite Injuries to the Craniofacial Region: An Epidemiologic and Pattern-of-Injury Review at a Level 1 Trauma Center,” published in March 2019 by the Journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons:
“We reviewed 182 patient records distributed among several breed categories. The results showed a disturbing trend toward more severe injuries, especially in younger children, and a reversal in gender, with girls bitten more than boys. Young children incurred more extensive facial injuries, including fractures. The data showed that compared with other dog breeds, pit bull terriers inflicted more complex wounds, were often unprovoked, and went off property to attack. Other top-biting breeds resulting in more unprovoked and complex wounds included German shepherds, Rottweilers, and huskies.”
“Pit bull was the most-identified breed”
From “Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries in Central Texas,” published in October 2018 by the Journal of Pediatric Surgery:
“A retrospective review of patients aged less than 18 years treated for dog bite injuries from October 2011 to October 2016 was performed…One-hundred and two patients met the inclusion criteria. The mean age was 5.84 years…Injuries often involved the head–neck region (92.1%), and 72.5% were of major severity. Pet dogs were responsible for 42% of injuries, and pit bull was the most-identified breed (36.2%).”
Altogether, fourteen retrospective studies from Level 1 traumatic injury treatment centers published by peer-reviewed medical journals between 2011 and 2019 have reported that pit bulls inflict more severe injuries than any other dog breed type, requiring more extensive surgeries and more treatment over more time.
Record payouts by State Farm
The only noteworthy break from the longterm trends in the mark “Dog Bite Awareness Week” 2020 literature is that State Farm, for the first time since it began annually releasing dog attack claims data, paid out slightly less per dog attack claim than the insurance industry average: $43,712, compared to the norm of $44,760.
Nonetheless, with 9.7% of the total U.S. property-and-casualty insurance market, according to Insurance Information Institute data, State Farm paid $146 million, the most ever by any one insurance company, to settle 3,340 dog bite and injury claims in 2019, sixty more than in 2018.
This amounted to 18.3% of the $797 million paid out by all insurers combined.
State Farm is among the few major insurance companies that does not charge higher premiums to write liability policies for property owners and renters who have pit bulls and other dog breeds associated with more frequent and severe attacks, resulting in more and higher claims.
But this means that State Farm insurees are paying premiums to insure their dogs that appear to be nearly twice as high as would be necessary if the insurees were not subsidizing pit bull owners.
Altogether, State Farm “has paid over $1 billion for dog-related injury claims” since 2008, the company acknowledged during Dog Bite Prevention Week 2018.
The total is now about $1.271 billion.