Dogs chomp on more than four million people a year1



Dogs chomp on more than four million people a year.
Don・t be one of them.

Dog bites on the rise
Megan Boger of La Belle, Pa., returned from shopping with her mother and ran into the yard to greet the family pet, a part-cocker mutt named Blaze. Seconds later, her mom, Elena Boger, heard a snap and then shrieks from three-year-old Megan. There was blood all over her face from tooth punctures under an eye and around her mouth, she recalls. Elena and her husband rushed their sobbing child to a local hospital. But the injuries were severe enough that the Bogers were sent to Children・s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where a plastic surgeon stitched the gashes.

Little Megan is far from alone in having been the victim of a dog bite. According to a 1994 survey (the most recent) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, some 4.7 million people were bitten by dogs. About 800,000 required medical treatment. Many bites are to children, and most are from family pets or familiar dogs, not strays.

Many bites are treated at home or in a doctor・s office, and as a consequence are often not reported to authorities. Meanwhile, there is no ongoing national system for counting dog bites, says the CDC・s Dr. Jeffrey Sacks. In some locales bites are reported to the police, in others to the animal-control folks or the health department. Some counties don・t collect data at all.

Whatever the exact numbers, medical, veterinary and insurance experts agree: dog bites are on the rise. One reason may be that more people are getting larger, more powerful dogs than in the past. The CDC considers dog bites a serious public-health problem for children. A Pennsylvania study found that 45 percent of children had been bitten. And not only children are at risk. Dog bites are no joke for letter carriers and delivery people.

Dog attacks account for a whopping one-third of all liability claims under renter or homeowner・s insurance policies. The Insurance Information Institute says that dog-bite-related medical treatment costs $1 billion a year. Homeowner-liability claims paid about $250 million of that in 1996.

One provider of liability coverage, MetLife Auto & Home, refuses coverage to many homeowners who have dogs with a history of biting or to those who own a breed they believe most prone to bite, including German shepherds, pit bulls, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, chows, huskies and Alaskan malamutes. Although any breed can bite, these breeds tend to be responsible for the most bites, the worst bites, and many of the dozen or so dog-bite fatalities every year.

How can you protect yourself and your children, and prevent your pet from becoming part of the problem? Some common sense will help:

Family Friendly.
Bad matches between a dog・s temperament and a family・s personality are sure to cause trouble. People can fall in love with a cute puppy, then find out six months later that they got more dog than they bargained for or one whose personality is different from what they imagined.

"Have you ever seen an Akita puppy?" asks Diane Allevato, executive director of the Marin County, California, Humane Society. "They・re gorgeous! But chances are that puppy will grow up to be an aloof, one-person or one-family dog. It・s the way the dog is supposed to be. So if you wanted a dog the whole soccer team could love, don・t choose a loyal-to-one-person dog; he could become a biter."

The solution? Find out about the breeds you・re interested in before you even glance at a puppy. And consider getting a mixed breed. "We promote adopting mixed breeds because you often get the best of both parents," says Allevato.

"Sit...Stay."
In the excitement of picking out a new pet, many people underestimate how much time it takes to train it. Yet experts say any dog requires a continuing commitment to training if they・re going to be under control around people.

That・s especially true for more aggressive and bigger dogs. "Take Rottweilers," says Pat Hubbard, director of operations at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. "They can make very sweet, loyal family dogs. But you have to be very serious about training them from the start." This means finding