As much as I hate covering these stories, I continue to remain on top of them. I would much prefer to spend time wrting about all of the good things dogs bring into our lives, and about the good a lot of shelters are doing to change the face of sheltering in this country. However, I feel like this is important as it seems that the only other people who report on these cases are doing so with an ignorance as to social and causal factors that lead up to dog attacks, and with an anti-dog agenda.
Dogs are very safe animals. We live in a society with more than 75 million dogs; and each year only around 30 are involved in fatal attacks. And when we look at the circumstances surround the attacks, we start to find the root causes of them that can help us prevent future attacks.
Breed isn't a primary causal factor. And even if it was proven to be a secondary factor, targeting breeds with legislation that is both over inclusive (including dogs that are not aggressive) and under inclusive (by not targeting dogs that have shown aggressive tendencies, has proven repeatedly to be an ineffective and costly 'solution'.
So with that, here is a rundown of five fatal attacks that have occurred over about the last 6 weeks, and an update on a story from earlier this year that shows how once certain facts come out you start to see the root causes of how human behavior can cause severe incidents -- often without people understanding how or why. The incidents almost always follow a pattern of behavior including unsupervised child interactions with dogs, packs of free-roaming dogs, or dogs with a history of aggressive behavior.
If we want to stop these types of attacks, we need to move away from conversations about "Breeds" and move toward conversations about how dogs are kept, socialized and how toddler interactions with dogs should be supervised -- and how dog attacks such as this are actually more of a symptom of social issues than a stand-alone causal event.
Jordan Ryan - 5 years old - Baker City, OR
One morning, in late September, Jordan Ryan's mom dropped him off at a friend's house for the day. While the boy's mom and her friend were inside talking, Jordan wandered outside unattended into the back yard where a dog was kept. Tragically, the dog, described as a "pit bull" attacked and killed the young boy. By media accounts, the dog had been with the family for less that 6 weeks and it doesn't sound like the dog had ever interacted with the child before.
It's definitely a tragic incident, but we talk about this all the time about the importance of adults supervising children around dogs as unsupervised children are most at risk -- particularly because children aren't good at reading canine behavior.
It's also important to note that Baker City, a community of about 10,000 people, has a poverty rate of over 26% -- which is significantly higher than the national average of about 16%. It is not uncommon for areas with high poverty rates to have myriad social problems -- of which dogs can often become a symptom of the larger social problem.
Nge Woodhead -- 65 - Spanaway, WA
Sixty five year old Woodhead was out on her daily walk when two dogs that were roaming at large attacked her from behind. Bystanders came to Woodhead's aid and she was taken to the hospital where she seemed to make a recovery. Then, as she was about to be discharged from the hospital, suffered a heart attack related and died at the hospital.
The dogs implicated in the incident were described as "pit bulls".
Adults who end up as part of fatal dog attacks are usually older (and thus more vulnerable) and are most often a victim of being attacked by multiple dogs at once. Which is the case for Ms. Woodhead.
Terry Douglass - 56 - Baltimore, MD
Douglass was apparently attacked and killed by her own dog. Douglass suffered from cerebral palsy and had been confined to a wheelchair for the past two years.
The dog, described as a pit bull, had had previous run-ins with animal control -- having had bitten Douglass on four previous occassions. Two years ago, the dog bit Douglass in the face causing a severe bite. In April, the dog was impounded for biting both Douglass and her nephew. The incident seemed to have occurred in some guarding over some dropped food.
After the attack in April, Douglass's daughter Tamithia pleaded with animal control not to return the dog, Bootsie, back to Douglass but Animal Control did in spite of multiple previous dog bites.
Douglass's nephew said that she originally got the dog for protection and that while she thought she could handle the dog, but couldn't. A neighor described the dog as "vicious" and "scary".
Douglass lived in the 21218 zip code of Baltimore -- a zip code where 24% of residents live below the poverty line (again, significantly higher than the national average and more than double the state average). It's also important to note that Baltimore has one of the highest crime rates in the nation -- so living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Baltimore probably game Douglass a legitimate reason to be worried for her safety. Unfortunately, in the process, she got a dog that she apparently wanted to be aggressive, and was, and became a vicitm to the dog's viciousness.
If you have a dog that is showing aggressive signs, please seek professional help from a dog trainer with how to deal with those signs.
Katherine Atkins - 25 - Kernersville, NC
There is frustratingly very little information about this incident -- but according to reports, the 25 year old Atkins went outside to feed two dogs owned by her boyfriend. Something obviously went terribly wrong and Atkins was found killed by the two dogs. No one witnessed the attack, so little information about the events leading up to it are available.
The dogs, described as pit bulls, appear to be outside dogs -- kept in a fenced in area in the back of their rural-ish property. The dogs were definitely not kept as indoor family pets....although they didn't seem necessarily neglected either.
The article notes that the owner had owned the dogs since they were puppies. I'd love to know at what age the dogs were removed from their litter....
Levi Watson - 4 -White County, AR
Young Levi, and his mother were visiting a friend in Bradford, AR and the 4 year old toddler ventured outside unattended, and then entered an enclosed area where the dogs were kept.
The adults in the home heard a commotion outside and ran out to find the toddler inside the pen with the dogs being attacked. The dogs were described as "pit bulls".
Nearly identical to the Jordan Ryan case above, again it appears as an instance of the dogs being kept outside (vs as inside family pets) and again, an unsupervised toddler that wandered outside alone and into the fenced in area to dogs that were not socialized at all with the child.
In the community of Bradford, 32% of the population lives below the poverty line -- more than double the rate of the national average.
Joan Kappen - 75 - Hot Springs Village, AR
The 75 year old Kappan was out on her morning walk and was tragically attacked by her neighbor's Bull Mastiff. The dog's owner was out of town on vacation and the dog was being cared for by a dog sitter. The reports are generally pretty vague, but based on the reports, it appears the dog sitter may have just put the dog outside, not on a leash, and was inside at the the time of the attack and may have "gone out" to attempt to break up the fight. There has also been some concern by Hot Springs Village residents that the community apparently has no leash law.
It's interesting to note here that Garland County (of which part of Hot Springs Village resides) recently spent months creating a law that targets "high risk" breeds. Bull Mastiffs were not targeted by the ordinance. It just shows that again, it's not "breeds" that are agressive, and targeting them is not effective legislation. Educating people about canine behavior and how to properly handle their dogs is important.
And in a quick follow up story; earlier this year there was a story of an attack involving a 14 month old child, Daxton Borchard, in Wisconsin. Alldogsbite.org had an excellent follow up with additional information from the police report that wasn't fully reported by the media.
There is a lot of information there -- but one is an extremely interesting tidbit that notes that the owner of the dogs had actually gotten them when they were THREE WEEKS old -- the dogs were removed from their litter early apparently because the mother wasn't producing enough milk for the puppies.
Academic research notes that dogs that are removed from their owners early (prior to 8 weeks) show dramatic increases in destructivenesss, fearfulness, noise reactivity, toy possessiveness, food possessiveness, attention seeking, aversion to strangers, stranger aggression, play biting and owner aggression. MOST of these behaviors were described in the police report.
This is why, so often, media reports are just the baseline of information and digging further (certainly beyond "breed") will help us uncover truths of canine behavior and public safety.
My deepest sympathies go out to the victims and the families of all of these cases and I do hope that society will begin asking the right question about circumstances to help eliminate these few cases of dog/human relationships gone wrong.