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Dog Attacks Exaggerated, Particularly When It Comes to Pit Bulls


Balloons are more likely to kill a child than a dog, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA.

Balloons are more likely to kill a child than a dog, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA. “My goal was to look at the available data to learn the truth about dog bites,” says Janis Bradley, author of “Dogs Bite But Balloons And Slippers More Dangerous (James & Kenneth, Berkeley, CA, 2005; $14.95).”

Bradley, in an attempt to make her point uses a bar chart in her book. She compares an average number of fatal injuries in a year to children caused by dogs to deaths of kids caused by their human caregiver(s). The bar is an inch-high of deaths caused by a canine, the bar of kids killed by their own caregiver(s) stops at six inches only because the physical space on the page ends – but would carry on for another 11 pages.

While different numbers are tossed about in the media which tally the number of dog bites, the truth is no one knows how many there are. According to some media reports, there are 4.7 million bites reported annually. If this figure is accurate in the first place, Bradley says every person living in America would have been nailed by a dog by the age of 60.

“If this is true, why would people have dogs?” Bradley asks. However, she answered her own question by digging a little further. It turns out roughly 3.9 million of reported bites require no medical attention whatsoever. It’s like reporting a skinned knee as a hazard.

What matters are the bites where injury is a real issue. In fact, injury scores are given to dog bites, called Injury Severity Scores. It turns out less than one per cent of bites are classified as causing moderate or serious injury.

Still, when it comes to dangerous animals, you’d think dogs would be at the top of the list of causing fatalities. Bradley learned that for every million horses, there are 2.16 human fatalities involving horses, making them the most dangerous domestic animal.

Her point isn’t that horses are dangerous; instead it’s that dogs aren’t. Forklifts are 17 times more likely to kill the average adult than a dog, according to Bradley’s book. How many of us are exposed to forklifts on a daily basis? How many of us are regularly exposed to dogs?

Well, you might ask, if dogs are so safe, what’s all this noise in the press about dangerous dogs, particularly targeting pit bulls?

Bradley doesn’t have the answer for that one. “I can’t tell you why, I can tell you the press attention is misdirected.”

Detractors would argue that, in fact, serious dog attacks are on the rise, particularly those by pit bulls.

“Well that could be what people think,” she says. “I’ve seen no data or any other evidence to support that assumption. Not all assumptions are true. Well for one thing, what’s a pit bull?” As an example, she points to the cover of her own book. “People tell me it’s a Great Dane, or a Lab-mix, or a pit bull, you name it,” she says.

“Just because a dog has a general kind of pit bull look doesn’t tell you anything about its genetic make up,” says Bradley who is an instructor for the Academy of Dog Trainers at the San Francisco SPCA. “It’s like looking at a class of second graders, and assuming all the kids with blonde hair are from Scandanavia, or their parents, or their parents’ parents were from there.”

She continues, “When dogs do bad things, and have a pit-bull type look, immediately that’s what the authorities and the community assumes it is. We’ve been programmed to make that false assumption.”

However, while “pit bull attacks” make headlines, Bradley says the number of these dogs who bite might actually may be fewer than what you’d expect given how many there are in the general dog population. There’s no way to know exactly how many pit bull-type dogs there, but walk into many urban shelters and well over half the dogs may have this look.

“Banning a breed – even if you could accurately identify what pit bulls are – isn’t an answer,” says Bradley. In fact, what little data we have shows that additional problems are created as a result” Examples include people going underground with their dogs, not giving them appropriate socialization or veterinary care; or good citizens taking their good dogs with a pit bull look and with them their incomes out of communities with breed specific laws.

“When dogs have conflicts with humans, the problems are generally neophobia or fear of the unfamiliar, or a conflict over resources (such as food or toys),” says Bradley. “And a lack of socialization is a huge issue.”

More serious attacks often involve dogs that the community has previously complained about (without adequate response) and/or dogs involved in some way with crime.

“Blaming an individual breed (for attacks or bad behavior)– even if you could identify the breed – is the same as racial profiling,” she says. “It’s just wrong, and, so far, hasn’t proven to solve a thing.”

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