Wow. It's been a really rough couple of weeks on the dog bite fatality front. Dog attack fatalities are EXTREMELY rare -- usually amounting to only about 30 or so a year as compared to 72 million+ owned dogs in this country. Unfortunately, they do happen. And because of their rarity, it is exceedingly important to recognize the circumstances behind these attacks -- because, if any type of dog was 'bred to kill' incidents like this would be far more common. The reality is that dog attack fatalities are so rare you probably couldn't create one if you wanted to.
However, there were two incidents last week. Both tragic. Both preventable. And both can probably tell us a lot about how to avoid tragic attacks and how the humans involved helped create the incidents.
Mary Jo Hunt was a 53 year old woman in Pembroke, NC. Hunt, a rescuer, was in the back yard of her home with "10-15" dogs. According to the reports, several of the larger dogs began attacking one (or more) of the smaller dogs. Hunt apparently tried to intervene and separate the dogs using a rake, but was overwhelmed by the total number of dogs. She was caught up in the attack and died of injuries sustained when the dogs also attacked her.
The situation on the dogs involved is a little unclear -- including how many dogs were actually involved. "Several" of the dogs were German Shepherds and 7 'pit bulls' (the sheriff's office is calling the dogs "mixed breeds" while the Interim Shelter director is calling them 'pit bulls" -- the video footage shows a lot of mixed breed dogs at the shelter -- but it's unclear if the dogs in the video are the ones involved in the attack ) are being blamed for the attack, and 2 other terriers and another 'pit bull" were apparently among the dogs that were "attacked" by the other dogs.
The area where this happened has a 26% poverty rate -- nearly double the national average.
While a lot of the details of the attack are unclear, it does show a situation where one person was responsible for caring for a large number of large dogs all on her own. Any time you have multiple dogs together, there is an opportunity for a skirmish to break out between a couple of the dogs. If that happens, and multiple dogs decide to jump in, then you can definitely have a mess on your hands if you are by yourself. A similar situation happened in August when 23 year old Rebecca Carey was attacked by one of five dogs that were being kept in her home and she apparently got in the middle of two of them fighting.
I highly recommend that rescuers, who often have big hearts and find it hard to say no, understand their limits and avoid situations where they have too many animals for them to handle on their own and always plan on what to do in the "worst case" scenario.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Ms. Hunt.
The story was picked up by 23 different news sources -- only one of which bothered to mention the presence of German Shepherds at the home.
Tarilyn Bowles was a 3 week old infant that was tragically killed by a dog last week. According to the reports (in, what is an odd story that I'm not quite buying), the infant's mother was temporarily staying in the home of friend and came into the home. She set the toddler on the floor in her child safety seat. The mother did not realize the dog was in the house and thought it was outside. While the mother left the baby unattended, the dog apparently bit the infant in the face and the infant died of the injuries. The dog is being described as a 'pit bull'.
A lot of parts of this story don't make sense -- particularly that the mother said she didn't know the dog was in the house when she came home. I've been around a lot of dogs in my life, and I'm not sure I've ever met one (either aggressive or friendly) that didn't greet me at the door when I got home. So to arrive at the home, and the dog not make its presence known, seems, well, odd.
The incident happened in the 48228 area code of Detroit -- which has a 38% poverty rate -- nearly 3x the national average. I highlight this because I think often people in low-income areas feel the need to get dogs that are (or train dogs to be) somewhat aggressive because they usually live in areas of higher crime. I also think there is a lot of dog ownership education that needs to happen in a lot of low-income areas to help avoid tragedies like this.
Regardless, very young infants are very vulnerable to bites like this as a bite to an adult can be life-threatening to a very young infant - and a bite like this is more likely to happen if the dog is not well-socialized with the infant. And regardless of the socialization, a dog should NEVER be left alone with a child that is under the age of 6 without adult supervision.
My heart goes out to the family and everyone involved in the incident.
The story was covered by dozens of media outlets across the country.