Dog Bite Prevention: Mental State of Dogs Vital in Post-Pandemic World

April 14, 2021 | 10:55 am


Each year, millions of people are bitten or attacked by dogs. Sadly, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Last year nearly 18,000 dog bite injury claims were made in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California had the most claims, and Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia and New Jersey rounding out the top 10.

In commemoration of National Dog Bite Prevention, the focus this year is on the mental state of our dogs, and transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. Last March at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, State Farm reported its highest month for the number and amount paid for dog bite claims. Experts said they believe pets may have picked up on their owners’ stress and anxiety.

As pet owners return to the workplace or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for the record amount of dogs adopted during the pandemic.

“By owning a dog, you are responsible if it bites or injures another person,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “And since we know all dogs can bite, and they can bite for many different reasons, owners are responsible for keeping us humans and pets safe in difficult situations.”

 

DOG BITE PREVENTION

So, what can we do to prevent dog bites?

The three most important things as a dog owner, education, training and responsibility, experts share. Educate yourself on dog body language. Take this commemoration as an opportunity to educate your friends, families, and neighbors that any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. Teach the people around you that even well-trained dogs are capable of biting, especially if you disturb them while eating or sleeping, or if they are caught off guard, like by a postal carrier. Learn how to be a responsible dog owner. Schedule regular veterinary-care check-ups, teach children to treat dogs with respect, give your dog some mental and physical exercise, use a leash in public, and keep your dog away or locked in a room if it tends to be aggressive towards strangers and someone visits your house.

Socializing your pet helps your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog. Also educate yourself and your children about how to approach a dog. Lastly, 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

Reading a dog’s body language also can be helpful. Just like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalizations to express themselves and communicate. Dogs can give us helpful clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened.

 

K-9 STUDY & LAWSUITS

The Washington Post recently highlighted the dozens of video-recorded K-9 attacks that have surfaced over the past few years across the country, many showing people under attack even though they are unarmed, have surrendered to police, are already handcuffed or are innocent bystanders

An estimated 40,000 people were treated for K-9 attacks in hospital emergency rooms from 2009 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although deaths are rare, the nonprofit Marshall Project news organization found at least three people had died of injuries from police dog bites since 2011.

Today, about 15,000 police dogs are now working in the United States.

Some psychologists say the premise behind the use of police dogs — to subdue and get a suspect to become motionless — is faulty at its core. Humans are hard-wired to actively fight an attack that might lead to serious injuries or death. Many Black suspects also have frightening personal histories of ancestors being hunted by canines.

In some cases, the people who were bitten have received financial settlements through civil lawsuits, including clients of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The law firm resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what was the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California at the time, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database. In this case, a 21-year-old was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg. Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Most recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a claim on behalf of the family of a second-grade student who was bitten on the face by a dog while in her classroom. Leilani, 8, suffered severe lacerations and tearing to her face when she was attacked by one of two large dogs visiting her classroom at Wayside Elementary School (Bakersfield City School District) in south Bakersfield. The dogs belonged to a volunteer reader from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

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If you or someone you know is bitten or attacked by a dog, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.