Fewer claims in 2020, but more damage
NEW YORK CITY––National Dog Bite Prevention Week is back for April 11-17, 2021, focused as usual since 1956 on “educating people about preventing dog bites.”
Again in 2021 there is no mention in the Dog Bite Prevention Week literature distributed by American Humane, American Veterinary Medical Association, the Insurance Information Institute, State Farm Insurance, and the celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, who call themselves the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition, of the very much breed-specific causes of the explosion in fatal and disfiguring attacks that has for decades sent insurance payouts soaring, year after year.
“Awareness” did nothing
National Dog Bite Prevention Week was for 2020 briefly renamed “Dog Bite Awareness Week,” having failed for 64 years to demonstrably prevent much of anything.
But “awareness” did not accomplish much, either.
“While the number of dog-related injury claims decreased 4.6% compared to the previous year,” falling to 16,991, the Insurance Information Institute noted in a Dog Bite Prevention Week 2021 media release, “the amount paid for these claims increased 7.1%—a record high.
“The average claim payment was $50,245 in 2020, up 12.3% from $44,760 in 2019,” the Insurance Information Institute said.
But even those numbers fall short of exposing the magnitude of fast-rising cost of dog attacks, driven almost entirely by pit bull proliferation.
Back to prevention
The other major driver of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks is the ongoing onslaught of pit bull advocacy organization against the breed-specific legislation that––if strictly enforced––could contain the mayhem.
Altogether, U.S. insurance industry payouts for dog attacks have increased by 21% in just three years, a total of $179 million, despite declining numbers of claims.
Declining insurance claims might be attributed to increased numbers of uninsured dog owners, specifically pit bull owners who choose not to pay the elevated premiums that their choice of dogs incurs, if they are to be adequately covered.
“Awareness” having failed, the Dog Bite Prevention Week emphasis is back to prevention, still without coming to grips with the underlying problem.
Average of 45 dog attack fatalities per year now, up from two in 1956-1960
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 21 years.
U.S. dog attack fatalities over the same time have increased from an average of two per year reported from 1956 to 1960, about one per year inflicted by pit bulls, when pit bulls were well below 1% of the U.S. dog population according to classified ads offering dogs for sale, to an average of 45 per year from 2015 through 2020, 34 of them by pit bulls.
Pit bulls are now about 5.5% of the U.S. dog population, though making up between a third to two-thirds of the population of dogs in animal shelters, varying by region.
Pit bulls killed five of first six 2021 victims
Five of the first six reported U.S. dog attack fatalities of 2021 have been inflicted by pit bulls.
Three pit bulls or similar “large-breed dogs,” possibly Dogo Argentinos, also inflicted the only reported Canadian dog attack fatality of 2021, 17-year-old Megan Fisher, a Chippewa resident of Middlesex, Ontario, who was mauled on April 2, 2021 at a friend’s house.
“With an estimated population of nearly 85 million dogs living in U.S. households, millions of people—most of them children—are bitten by dogs every year,” the Dog Bite Prevention Week 2021 literature emphasizes.
The 45.9% of dog bites resulting in insurance claims in 2020 that were suffered by children actually fell a bit short of being “most,” but the 65% of the disfiguring and fatal dog attacks on children that were inflicted by pit bulls were nearly two-thirds.
“The majority of these bites, if not all, are preventable,” the Dog Bite Prevention Week 2021 literature adds.
Dog Bite Prevention Coalition tips miss the point
This much may be true, but the prevention tips offered by the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition in barely updated form since 1961 will not prevent most fatal and disfiguring pit bull attacks, which typically do not occur as result of voluntary actions by the victims.
Says the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition, “It’s important to know how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs. You should avoid petting a dog in these scenarios:
- If the dog is not with its owner
- If the dog is with its owner but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog
- If the dog is on the other side of a fence—don’t reach through or over a fence to pet a dog
- If a dog is sleeping or eating
- If a dog is sick or injured
- If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence
- If a dog is playing with a toy
- If a dog is growling or barking
- If a dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone.”
“No law has been violated”
None of those tips could have saved the one-month-old girl who was killed by a pit bull on February 12, 2021 in Buffalo County, Nebraska, or the one-year-old girl who was killed by a “pocket pit/Patterdale” on March 18, 2021 in Springfield, Illinois.
Certainly none of those tips could have saved three-year-old Aziz Ahmed, disemboweled by a neighbor’s two pit bulls on March 16, 2021 in Carteret, New Jersey. The two pit bulls, roaming at large, also critically injured Ahmed’s mother after invading their back yard.
Said Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone, “Based upon the information known at this time, it would appear as if no law has been violated,” because of an alleged lack of evidence of “intentional, knowing, or reckless criminal conduct” on the part of pit bull owner Santos Rodriguez.
16 real-life tips for surviving a dog attack
ANIMALS 24-7 has just posted 16 real-life tips for surviving a dog attack (2021 edition), detailing methods of defense against dog attacks, especially pit bull attacks, which have often proved to be effective when used by victims in our nearly 39 years of documenting the damage.
In succinct summary, firearms stop a dog attack about 80% of the time if the victim hits the dog with the first shot.
Fire extinguishers are effective about 70% of the time.
Electric stun guns and cattle prods appear to be potentially helpful, but ANIMALS 24-7 has no actual data to demonstrate their efficacy. Tasers are rarely useful at all.
Putting an obstacle between oneself and the dog is the only other defense method that consistently works.
Trying to stop a charging dog, especially a pit bull, with either a knife or use of blunt force is most likely to result in severe injuries to the victim, since trying to use either sort of weapon tends to put the victim closer to a bite instead of farther away.
Effects of COVID-19
Notes the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition, “According to State Farm’s claim information, there were more dog-related injury claims in March 2020 than in any other month last year, with a reported 21.6% increase in dog bites compared to March of the previous year.
“The increase seen in March 2020 was likely due to the disruption in routines at the start of pandemic lockdowns,” the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition speculated, “when dogs were dealing with owner stress and more people around the house throughout the day. Experts fear another disruption—this time cause by the easing of restrictions for activities outside the home—could lead to another spike in bites.”
This coincided with the ANIMALS 24-7 observation that reported disfiguring dog attacks on Americans and Canadians, exclusive of fatalities, fell from 1,032 in 2019 to just 379 in 2020, a 63% drop for the year.
Reported disfiguring pit bull attacks, exclusive of fatalities, fell by 52%, from 498 in 2019 to 241 in 2020.
Superficially, those steep declines might seem to make sense, in combination with the changes in human behavior introduced by “social distancing” requirements to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19.
But more people spending more time at home with their dogs, and fewer dogs out in public, did not coincide with a drop in fatalities.
Comparing the ratio of fatalities to disfigurements reported in past years with the 2020 data suggests that about 40% of all pit bull-inflicted disfigurements occurring in 2020 were not reported by the victims and their families to public safety agencies, since they occurred within the dog’s own home, with no non-family witnesses.
Coalition seeks to ban risk-based insurance pricing
The Dog Bite Prevention Coalition linked the Dog Bite Prevention Week 2021 web page to an American Veterinary Medical Association web page opposing breed-specific legislation.
A separate coalition calling itself the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement on February 6, 2021 asked the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to “investigate the use of breed discrimination lists,” meaning actuarial tables showing the relative risk posed by various dog breeds.
At least 13 major insurance groups charge higher premiums for insuring dog breeds of significantly higher-than-average actuarial risk, meaning greater risk that a dog attack will result in a payout.
Coalition members include the Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Humane Rescue Alliance, a subsidiary of the American SPCA. All have long been active in pit bull advocacy.
“As there is a lack of data to support this discrimination,” the coalition contended in a media release, “we are also asking them [the National Association of Insurance Commissioners] to issue a call for national and state-specific data on the risks associated with listed breeds.”
There is actually no scarcity of data to demonstrate the elevated actuarial risk associated with specific dog breeds, including the ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks by breed, maintained since 1982.
The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement said that “Bills to prevent breed discrimination by insurance companies are being introduced in Illinois and Nevada (one has already been introduced in New York.)”
Both State Farm Insurance, which insures all dogs without charging higher premiums for high-risk breeds, and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies on February 24, 2021 testified before the Nevada state senate in opposition to SB 103, the bill referenced by the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement.