I've stated this before, but I think it bears repeating. This is probably my least favorite thing I write about on this blog. I've often thought about discontinuing writing about dog attack fatalities because frankly there is so much POSITIVE stuff about dogs that I'd rather write about and there are some really cool things going on in the animal welfare world that are worth spending the time on.
On the flip side, there are really only a couple of sources that cover dog bite fatalities. One, the National Canine Research Council, does VERY thorough and detailed work, but it isn't very timely as they usually take a full year of follow up to get their report. The other, dogsbite.org, has no clue about canine breeds, or behaviors, and would rather sensationalize and falsify information to create hysteria as opposed to relaying accurate, actionable information.
So, in the spirit of timely and mostly accurate information (as accurate as my reliance on media accounts can be), I continue to write this report.
Before I get into tallying the information, I think there are several key things that are worth mentioning:
1) Fatal dog bite-related incidents are extremely rare. We live in a society where there are about 75 million dogs living in homes. Dogs share our beds, our couches and our hearts. However, each year, about 30 of these 75 million dogs are involved in fatal incidents. This number is microscopic and each incident is astatistical anomaly. Each year, about 124,000 people die from accidental deaths. The vast majority of them (42,000) are from motor vehicles, 23,000 are from accidental falls and some 30,000 are due to poisoning. So .02% of all fatal accidents are from dogs and .00004% of dogs are involved in fatal incidents. It happens, but it's exceedingly rare. Meanwhile, humans kill millions of dogs in this country every year due to our own failures.
2) Given the rarity of fatal dog bites, it is obvious that most dogs, regardless of breed, are not aggressive. Even if every single incident involved the same breed of dog, and that breed was a very rare breed, the majority of the dogs of that breed would still prove themselves to be sound dogs. Thus, it is imporant to look very closely at the actual circumstances that surrounded each individual dog attack -- including the importance of what role the people involved in the equation had in leading up to the attack. Circumstances are critical to understanding and preventing these incidents.
3) Media reporting on this subject varies wildly, with some incidents getting little to no media attendion and others getting carried by hundreds of media outlets. Often, breed is a component of the 'newsworthiness" of these attacks.
4) The vast majority of my data, including the breed ID, comes from media sources, so with them comes the inherent ID issues that come from visual breed mis-identification and media mis-reporting. I've done my best to cut through the hysteria to get accurate info, but there will be some inaccuracies based on mis-reporting.
5) In several instances I've included some information on poverty levels where the attacks occurred. I don't include this to imply that low-income people are not good pet owners. Many, in fact most, are. However, low income areas are generally that way due to poor education levels -- and often, poor formal education also leads to lower education on things like proper ways to keep and harbor dogs and more educational resources may be necessary in many of these areas.
So with that, the following is the list of US fatal attacks in 2011 and some key elements behind the attack. If you click on the victim's name, you can get a more detailed report of the incident written by me earlier in the year.
1) Linda Leal, 51, Calusa, CA, "mixed breed pit bull". Leal suffered from a variety of medical problems, including having liver cancer. Leal was apparently attacked by one of her two dogs. While one of her dogs was known to be aggressive, it was in a pen in the back yard. The other dog, that was loose and did not have a known history of aggression, is the one that is believed to have attacked her.
2) Makayla Woodard, 5, Waxhaw, NC, 2 'pit bulls'. The dogs belonged to a neighbor, Michael Gordon (who was just recently released from jail after serving a 10 month sentence for a felony break in). Just the month prior, police had been to Gordon's home to discuss issues with him letting the two dogs roam at large and they were apparently roaming at large in this instance as well. Another neighbor had called authorities about the dogs noting that the dogs appeared to be underfed and malnourished. It is also worth noting here that according to reports, the Department of Social Services had ben called "3 or 4 times" on Makayla's family regarding supervision and health issues with the girl. More than 100 media outlets covered the story.
3) Kristen Dutton, 9, McCormick, SC, Akita. The dog was purchased by the family 3 weeks earlier and had spent a fair amount of time with the victim. Apparently the girl was in the back yard with the dog while the dog was attached to a cable. The victim's grandfather went outside to check on the girl and found her with a fatal injury to her neck. The community where this happened is a small community with a poverty rate of more than double the national average. 30 news outlets reported on this.
4) Ronnie Waldo, 51, Pontotoc County, MS, 3 pit bulls. Waldo was fixing a hot water heater at some rental property he rented from Casey Swanson. During the repair, Waldo went up to Swenson's home to get a relay switch and was attacked by 3 'pit bulls' -- two of which were chained at the time. Swenson says he doesn't know why Waldo was on his property because there were "beware of dog" signs all over the property. There was also a young litter of puppies on the property.
5) Sirlinda Hayes, 66, Dillon, SC, 2 Rottweilers. The victim was in her front yard tending to her garden when she was attacked by two Rottweilers that were roaming at large. Neighbors report that the dogs often got loose. Dillon, SC, is a small community with a poverty level more than double the national average -- and this was, strangely, the 2nd fatal dog attack in the community in 6 months which is just amazing for a small community of 6500 people. The incident was reported by 250+ news outlets.
6) Howard James Paul, 76, El Paso, TX, unknown. The victim was a homeless man that was tragically killed after being attacked by a pack of wild, mongrel dogs.
7) Darius Tillman, 10 days old, Kalamazoo, MI, 'pit bull'. The child's mother laid the infant down for a nap and then went into a separate room to take a nap of her own. While everyone was asleep, the dog pushed the door open to the room and bit the infant and mortally wounded him.
8) Vanessa Elizabeth Husmann, 3, Hopkins, IA. 2 Rottweilers. The girl was in the back yard of her grandparent's home and was attacked by two Rottweilers. She was being 'supervised' by her 18 year old half brother who did not notice her going outside where the dogs were. The family often used the Rottweilers as breeding dogs. The story was picked up by 30 media outlets.
9) Annabelle Mitchell, 7 months, Frankfort, ME, Rottweiler. The young infant was asleep while the child's mother was passed out in another room (she reportedly had a blood-alcohol content of .3 -- 4x the legal limit) and tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in maijuana. While the child was asleep, and mom passed out, the dog bit and killed the young child.
10) Virgil Cantrell, 50, Ardmore, OK. Unknown. The man apparently approached the home and was attacked by a dog that was chained to the front porch. The dog was described as a 'pit bull', but video footage showing dogs on the property showed other dogs on the property that were mixed-breed mongrels living in pretty horrible living conditions. There had been previous bite reports at that addresss. Ardmore has a crime rate more than double the national average, and it seems likely that the dog was serving as a guard dog for the property.
11) Margaret Salcedo, 48, Truth or Consequences, NM. 4 'mixed breed pit bulls". Four dogs, described by the media as "mixed breed pit bulls' but never identified by anyone in any authority, were left roaming at large for a weekend while the owner was out of town. The dogs apparently attacked Ms. Salcedo and killed her. Truth or Consequences has a poverty rate nearly double the national average.
12) Jayelin Graham, 4, New York, NY. Cane Corso. A mother went outside to her car to get the keys she left in the stroller she left behind and left her four children, aged 10 months, 2, 4 and 5 alone with the family's two dogs, a Cane Corse and what was described as either a German Shepherd mix or a Husky mix depending on the source. While the mother as away, the Cane Corso jumped on top of the 4 year old and fatally injured the boy. The mother's boyfriend, Damien Jones, owned the dogs and apparently had a rap sheet that included busts for weapons possession, kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment. Neighbors reported that Jones actively trained the dogs to be aggressive. The story was picked up by more than 300 news outlets -- most of them calling the attacking dog a 'pit bull' before authorities reclassified it.
13) David Haigler, 38, Spotsylvania, VA, 'pit bull' -- the victim was found dead in his home by his 18 year old son. The man had a rap sheet, including being sentenced to 7 years in prison in 2003 for an incident in which he was involved in a high speed chase and ended up repeatedly ramming a Spotsylvania deputy's cruiser and pulling a gun on an officer. He had also been convict of possession of cocaine. There was also a second dog in the house that was chained up inside the house and not involved in the attack. This story was picked up by more than 175 media outlets. Police ran a toxicology report on the victim but no results were ever announced.
14) Roy McSweeney, 74, Putnam County, FL, 2 mixed breed dogs. McSweeney was out gardening when two dogs attacked him. The media reported the dogs to be "pit bulls", but then posted photos of the dogs and they appear to just be mixed breed dogs of unknown breeds based on the posted images. The two dogs had been in an incident 18 months ago as well, but local authorities did nothing about the dogs at the time of that attack.
15) Salvador Miguel Cotto, 6 months, Chesterfield, VA. American Bulldog mix. The infant was left alone with the family's deaf dog and the dog bit and killed the child. The dog was described by the media as both a Dogo Argentino and an American Bulldog mix, but the rescue organization that adopted out the dog says it was most likely an American Bulldog mix. The story was picked up by only 17 news outlets.
16) Michael Naglee, 1, Tillamook, OR, American Bulldog. The toddler was at a fourth of July gathering with his family. The boy was in his grandmother's lap when he began to squirm and so the grandmother put him down on the floor near where the dog was relaxing. The dog lunged and bit the infant -- and the wound proved to be fatal.
17) Darla Napora, 32, Pacifica, CA, Pit bull. Napora was home alone with her two family 'pit bulls' and was apparently attacked by one of the two dogs. There is little to no information about what led to the attack which was covered by more than 20 media outlets across the country.
18) James Dowling, 4, Hot Springs, AR. Rottweiler. The young bow was staying at his grandfather's house in Ozark, AR. The dog jumped a 4 foot tall chain link fence that it was sectioned off in part of the yard and attacked and killed the boy who was in the other area of the yard playing alone. Ozark, AR has a very high poverty level that is nearly double the national average. The story was picked up by 2 media outlets.
19) Addyson Camerino, 9 days old, Clarkton, NC, mulitple dogs of mulitple breeds. The child was killed by any one or combination of 5 different dogs that lived in the home (all are defined as very different breeds of dogs but no conclusive breeds were ever given). Clarkton has VERY high poverty rates, more than double the state averages.
20) Carmen Ramos, 50, Philadelphia, PA, at least one of 5 different 'pit bulls'. Ramos' husband found his wife dead after being attacked by one or more of the 5 dogs living in the home. The victim had previously been charged with arson, recklessly endangering another person and criminal mischief, and on a separate occassion for indencent exposure and isorderly conduct and for 2 different counts of contempt of court. The incident took place in a part of Philadelphia where 43% of the people live below the poverty line -- which is more than 3x the national average. The story was covered by more than 170 media outlets.
21) Michael Cook, 61, Tucson, AZ, 1 'pit bull' -- The man was alone at the time, but his dog Butch attacked him and he later died of injuries. The dog had been neutered earlier that day and was apparently coming out of anestesia at the time of the attack. Such a situation can often lead to dogs being groggy, in pain, etc (especially depending on the drugs used) that can cause a dog to act eradically.
22) Brayden McCollen, 2 weeks old, Cypress, TX, Lab mix-- the newborn infant was left alone in the living room while the mother was outside "watching" the child through a window. While left alone, the family dog began sniffing the child and bit him fatally. Early media reports called the dog a 'pit bull' -- which was picked up by more than 170 media reports. However, the Sheriff's office later declared the dog a "Lab mix" although this was only covered by a couple of media sources a couple of days after the tragedy.
23) Donna Conrad, 71, Valley View, TX, Doberman Pincher. The woman was alone at the time so no information ever was made available about what led up to the attack. Only one media outlet covered the attack.
24) Neveah Bryant, 21 months, Fairfield, CT, 'pit bull'. The child's mother was later charged with child endangerment after she left the toddler alone to be supervised by her young, teenage son (who was outside playing basketball with a friend). The toddler was left alone in the house with a 'pit bull' that was involved in the attack. The mother, Erica Hobdy, was in the process of being sued by a postal carrier for injuries he received in a separate dog attack on the property. So we ended up with an unsupervised child left alone with a dog with a bite history while the mom ran to the store to get a soda. Over 100 media outlets picked up the story.
25) Mya Maeda, 11 days old, Amarillo, TX, 'pit bull/mastiff mix" -- The mother was asleep on the couch near the baby's bassinet. At some point the dog attempted to move the baby from the bassinet and fatally injured the child although it doesn't sound like it in any way was an act of intended aggression by the dog.
26) Misty Wyno, 40, Lowndes County, GA, 'pit bull'. Wyno was walking from her house to a neighbor's house when the dog broke free from its chain and attacked her. Animal control had apparently been to the home numerous times over the past 3 years over concerns about the dog being aggressive. The area of Voldosta where this happened has a poverty rate more than double the national average. The story was picked up by 15 news sources.
27) Tonia Parks, 39, Rockford, IL, 2 American Bulldogs. Parks was trying to break up a fight between her two dogs when she suffered a seizure and one of the dogs bit her and punctured her jugular vein and she died. This area of Rockford has a povert rate 50% higher than the national average. The story was picked up by 15 news sources.
28) Joseph Hines, 58, Burnettsville, IN, 'pit bull". The man lived alone and was found dead a couple of days after the attack. The man suffered a bite to his neck. The story was picked up by 10 media outlets.
29) Edna Dyson, 71, Houston, TX, 2 'pit bulls'. The woman had gone to rental property she owned and the neighbor's dogs (described as 'pit bulls') went through a hole in the fence and attacked Dyson. Dyson died from her injuries. Dyson had previously expressed concerns about these dogs being aggressive.
30) Emako Mendoza, 76, San Diego, CA 2 'pit bulls'. Mendoza went outside to get the newspaper when the two dogs went through a gap in the fence and attacked her. Mendoza died later from injuries sustained in the attack. The owners of the two dogs were charged with felony counts of having a michievous animal that causes bodily harm.
There were 30 dog bite fatalities in 2011.
-- 9 different breeds of dogs, or mixes thereof involved ("unknown mixed breed" is counted as one singular breed)
-- 4 cases involved chained dogs
-- At least 12 cases were in areas with high poverty rates
-- 5 cases involved newborns
-- 17 cases involved adult victims, nine of these involved multiple dogs
-- 9 cases involved dogs with a noted history of aggression or had been reportedly neglected or abused, at least 5 involved situations in which there was criminal behavior either taking place or where there was a history of criminal activiy.
The attacks fall into roughly 4 categories:
1) Children under 1 year of age - 7 incidents, 5 different breeds of dogs involved. American Bulldog and "pit bulls' each had two occurances (one "pit bull" was mixed with 'mastiff"). In five of the cases the child was left alone and the dog had access to the child without adult supervision, in one case the child was with the parent, but the parent was asleep at the time of the incident, in the 6th, the family was present and supervising the child at the time of the attack.
2) Children Aged 1-5 - This has traditionally been one of the highest number of incidents, but only 5 incidents this year -- with three different breeds of dogs involved. In all cases the youngster was left unsupervised. Three of these incidents involved dogs with a known history of aggression.
3) Children over the age of 5 - one incident -- invoving a chained Akita that was relatively new to the family.
4 Adults - 17 cases - This is more adult victims than usual -- noting that 9 of these cases involved multiple dogs. Eight different dog breeds involved in these attacks. Two incidents involved chained dogs with a history of aggression, one involved someone trying to break up a fight between their two dogs, four involved at large dogs (including one pack of wild dogs, two owners with criminal histories were killed by their own dogs, and 4 others were killed by their own dogs.
When more than 100 million Ameicans make the decision to share their lives with dogs with teeth, unfortunately a small number of tragic incidents are an outcome because everything in our lives comes with some risk.
That said, there are clearly some things that we as a society can do to help minimize the number of these tragedies if we focus on the circumstances of these attacks and not breeds.
1) Work with new parents to understand the importance of early and propoer socialization (with supervision) for dogs with newborn infants. I'm thrilled that more and more trainers are focusing on this area of education...and Dogs & Storks remains one of my favorites. These tragedies are rare, but a little education can go a long way in preventing them.
2) Managing packs of free-roaming dogs. Packs of dogs behave different than individual dogs and can be a threat.
3) Focus on dogs that have a history of aggression. If your dog shows signs of aggression PLEASE go meet with a respected dog trainer that can help you revert your dog's aggressive behavior. Also, if people see aggressive dogs in their community, having animal control ordinances that can help Animal Control deal with aggressive dogs (based on their behavior) and reckless owners (who prove time and time again that they are unable to manage aggressive dogs), they can better head off these attacks. Aggressive dog attacks are never a dog's first sign of aggression, but always their last.
4) Better edcuation on canine behavior for low-income pet owners. Again, this is not to imply that low-income people are not good pet owners, only that there appears to be a higher incidence of poorly educated pet owners in low-income neighborhoods.
Just remember, dogs are a part of our lives and most of the time, a welcome, friendly part of it. But sometimes it can go wrong. And in those cases, we need to judge the situation based on the circumstances that led up to the dog's actions. Dogs have become an integral part of our lives, and thus, it is impossible to judge the actions of dogs without judging the actions of the people involved as well.
My 2010 report.
The NCRC 2010 Detailed Report (The NCRC report is far more researched than my own and you'll find some very interesting information in their report. I will always yield to them in their detailed accuracy).