Just because the mayhem in small towns & remote places goes overlooked by mass media does not mean ANIMALS 24-7 is not keeping track of it
ANZA, California––“Residents of rural Anza say they’re being terrorized by wild dogs who have mauled and killed about 300 sheep and goats in the past three months, chased a young boy and left 31 animals dead in a raid this week,” testified Riverside Press Enterprise reporter Monserrat Solis from eastern Riverside County, California, back on March 25, 2023.
Despite the shocking dog attack death toll in Anza, a community of only 2,100 residents, more than 40 miles from the nearest town that is any larger, Solis’ account drew just a fraction of the readership often attending reports of individual dogs, usually pit bulls, killing or badly injuring pricy purebred and “designer breed” dogs in urban dog parks.
USDA Wildlife Services counts sheep
Almost a year passed before Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Susanne Rust on January 4, 2024 picked up on the Anza area dog attacks for a big city audience.
“According to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services,” Rust mentioned, “domestic dogs are the second most lethal predator of livestock, with coyotes taking the top spot.
“In the case of sheep,” Rust continued, “coyotes and dogs account for more than 70% of predator losses, and dog kills are on the rise. In 2014, roughly 13,200 adult sheep were killed by dogs. In 2019, that number had increased by more than 10,000.
“For cattle and calves,” Rust wrote, “a 2015 report shows dogs accounted for 11.3% of kills. Wolves killed just 4.9%. But research on the topic is scarce in the U.S.”
Why ANIMALS 24-7 keeps a body count
Yet such research is not as scarce as Rust imagines: she apparently did not discover ANIMALS 24-7.
ANIMALS 24-7 in January 2013 embarked on what is now a 11-year voyage to boldly go where no statistician had gone before, to find not only how many other pets and livestock animals are killed by dogs each year, but also to establish which dogs are doing the killing.
As of 2013, the only prior estimate of the sort was that USDA Wildlife Services had projected since 2004, based on calls for help from farmers, that dogs kill upward of 22,000 livestock animals per year, including both poultry and hoofed species.
Similar projections from “help” calls, rather than from actual body counts, appear to be the source of the USDA Wildlife Services data that Rust cited on January 4, 2023.
No one else counts dog attacks on other animals by breed
Critical to realize is that USDA Wildlife Services has jurisdiction only over domestic dogs who kill livestock. Domestic dogs otherwise are a local animal control jurisdiction.
No one calls USDA Wildlife Services to complain about dog attacks on other dogs, attacks on cats, or dog attacks on other animals not kept as livestock on working farms.
Further, there are no agencies at either the state or federal level that routinely and systematically collect, aggregate, and evaluate local animal control reports, even about dog attacks on humans.
This is why ANIMALS 24-7 has since 1982 logged fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans in the U.S. and Canada, adding logs of human dog attack fatalities in the United Kingdom in 1991 and in South Africa in 2004.
This is also why in January 2013 ANIMALS 24-7 expanded our efforts to log dog attacks on other animals.
31,000 dogs per year kill other animals
What we now know, from both the aggregate and the averages of the data, is that about 31,000 domestic dogs per year participate in killing other animals.
Nearly 90% of those dogs are pit bulls.
Just under a third of the animals killed by domestic dogs are other dogs: about 9,500 per year. Again, about 90% of the dogs doing the killing are pit bulls.
More than 10,000 domestic dogs per year are severely injured by other dogs, exclusive of the victims of illegal dogfighting.
Eighty-three percent of the dogs severely injured by other dogs are injured by pit bulls.
Cats & other domestic pets
An average of about 3,200 cats per year are killed by domestic dogs, a figure which may be low due to under-reporting of dog attacks on ownerless cats.
Pit bulls kill 87% of the feline victims in attacks that are reported.
Domestic dogs, exclusive of situations to which USDA Wildlife Services would respond, kill about 13,000 animals of species otherwise classed as livestock per year, including sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses, donkeys, mules, llamas, alpacas, and poultry.
Pit bulls account for about 76% of these animal deaths, with German shepherds, huskies, and Rottweilers the distant runners-up.
Since USDA Wildlife Services field agents seldom actually see the dogs reported by farmers to have killed livestock, USDA Wildlife Services does not even attempt to categorize attacking dogs by breed.
None of that means that reliable and reasonably consistent annual estimates of the domestic toll on other animals, including by breed type, cannot be produced.
To be addressed is what is called by statisticians an “iceberg problem,” in which the mass of an iceberg lurking beneath ocean waves must be calculated from the slope of the tip of the iceberg floating above sea level.
This process is familiar to Arctic and Antarctic mariners, at least since the Titanic sank in 1912, but not to most people who count animals.
Finding the tip of the “iceberg”
Individual “iceberg” estimates can be misleading in detail, because iceberg shapes vary greatly, but with great consistency about 10% of the floating mass of an iceberg is above water.
Knowing that about 90% of each iceberg will be underwater, mariners can estimate from the floating 10% what the maximum width and depth of the unseen portion may be, and steer far enough clear of the unseen part to avoid a collision.
The first step, always, is to measure the tip of the iceberg.
The tip of the “iceberg” of dog attacks on other animals is those attacks that are individually documented, primarily by news media.
Individually tabulating the thousands of dog attacks on other animals that are mentioned on social media would provide a more accurate description of the “tip,” but apart from being a data compilation task perhaps beyond the ability of any one individual, would also require a different approach to figuring out the ratio between the reported attacks and those that are not reported.
Collecting and collating information about fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans, working from news media reports, ANIMALS 24-7 has learned over the years that while human fatalities due to dog attack are usually extensively reported, insurance industry data consistently shows that about 25 times more payouts are made in claims for injuries inflicted by dogs than in cases of non-fatal disfigurement reported by news media.
Assuming an under-reporting ratio of 25 unreported cases to one that makes news is, in general, a good starting point for estimating the under-reporting factor in cases involving human victims.
Factors contributing to under-reporting
By 2014, however, after a year of collating reported dog attacks on other animals, several further factors contributing to under-reporting, not applicable to cases of dog injury to humans, became evident:
• Dog attacks on animals receiving media notice are almost exclusively incidents in which either a human was also killed or injured; and/or
• Law enforcement or other intervenors killed the attacking dog; and/or
• The dog attack caused the death(s) of animals valued at more than $1,000.
In addition, dog attacks on other animals belonging to the same household as the dog are usually not reported at all.
Therefore our final estimate of fatal dog attacks on other animals each year became reported attacks multiplied by 25, to compensate for the gap between reported attacks and hypothetically possible insurance payouts if the victims were human, and then again by three to compensate for under-reporting of dog attacks that do not meet the criteria for hypothetically possible insurance payouts.
This amounts to reported attacks multiplied by 75.
86% of dogs who kill other animals are pit bulls
Regardless of whatever quibbles anyone may have with this method of producing the ANIMALS 24-7 annual estimates, collecting the raw data for 10 years has amassed information about 3,885 individual dogs killing other pets and/or livestock animals.
Of those 3,625 individual dogs who killed other animals, 3,116––86%––were pit bulls.
From year to year, the primary input data has varied widely, showing a general trend downward. This does not mean, however, that fewer dogs, and fewer pit bulls, are attacking and killing other animals.
What it appears to mean, mostly, is that as dog attacks on other animals become more common, at the same time as local news media are contracting due to economic pressures, those dog attacks are becoming less newsworthy.
Fatal attacks on humans are steeply up
If dog attacks on humans were declining, one might reasonably presume that dog attacks on other animals would be down, too. However, fatal dog attacks on humans have increased in the U.S. by more than a third since 2013; fatal attacks by pit bulls have quadrupled since 2007.
ANIMALS 24-7 will publish the 2023 roster of human deaths and statistics on disfiguring dog attacks as soon as cause of death information becomes available for boarding kennel owners Allison Cumming, 53, and her mother Jean Robinson, 76, of Farmington, Maine, found dead on the premises on the morning of December 28, 2023.
If the number of households including pit bulls had increased, incidentally, since 2013, a higher percentage of pit bull attacks on other animals occurring within the owners’ homes might be going unreported.
This, however, is not the case: pit bull ownership from 2013 through 2023 appears to have flatlined. See How many doggies are in the window? Dog breed census 2023.
Despite the year-to-year variation in the numbers of dog attacks on other animals collected by ANIMALS 24-7, there has been relatively little variance in the percentage of those attacks that are inflicted by pit bulls.
(Click here or on subhead above for 2023 projected animals killed by dogs, showing the year-by-year totals since 2013.)
Most of what variation there is results from instances in which just one or two dogs break into poultry barns and go on killing rampages, sometimes killing hundreds or even thousands of birds.
Several such rampages occurred in each year from 2017 through 2019, but ANIMALS 24-7 received no reports of a large-scale rampage in a poultry barn in 2020, and has received no reports of such rampages that were not within the USDA Wildlife Services jurisdiction since then.