This week, a little boy was killed and a schoolmate seriously injured when the two were attacked by dogs in southwest Atlanta. Last month, a 7-year-old Gwinnett County boy's ear was ripped off by dogs. In 2010, an 8-year-old girl lost her arm following a dog attack in DeKalb County.
Each story is heartbreaking, leaving physical and emotional wounds that may never heal. But every single attack could have been prevented, according to animal experts. And blaming the dog isn’t the answer.
“We need to hold people responsible for being responsible owners,” attorney Jessica Rock said. “And being responsible owners means keeping your animals in a secure location. Part of being a responsible owner is not training your dog to fight or be aggressive.”
Credit: John Spink
Credit: John Spink
Rock and attorney Claudine Wilkins, both former prosecutors, are the founders of Animal Law Source, dedicated to educating others about Georgia law. It's not just the public that needs more awareness about dog ownership, but also law enforcement officials who need training on the laws in place regarding animals, the two contend.
“The issue here is to have commissioners and lawmakers set aside funding for training in this area,” Wilkins said. “It starts with a dog at large and nobody doing anything about it.”
When the dog attack stories make the headlines, a gut-reaction from many is to focus on the breed involved. Certain types of dogs, such as pit bulls or Doberman Pinschers, are often responsible for causing the most severe injuries. But blaming a particular breed isn’t the answer.
"We cannot be looking at breed type," renowned trainer Victoria Stilwell said. "It can happen with any breed type or any breed mix. We have to look at the person on the other end of the leash."
Many dog owners aren’t doing their part to keep their pets happy and healthy to avoid the potential for aggressive behavior.
“Dogs have teeth for a reason: to eat and defend themselves,” Stilwell said. “A dog is aggressive for many different reasons. Dogs don’t attack for no reason.”
Fear or pain are likely culprits to aggression, according to experts. Adequate space could be another culprit. Certain dogs may love human hugs and kisses, but many will not.
For Stilwell, that means keeping her Chihuahua by her side when children other than her own are at her house. Children may want to be close to a pet’s face, though the animal is less than thrilled.
No matter the breed, any dog can bite, trainer Aly Lecznar said. Dogs also tend to be predictable, she said.
“They give us a beautiful range of behavior before they’re aggressive,” Lecznar said. “It’s up to dog owners to learn that aggression.”
Regardless of the breed, owners should take numerous steps, including socialization, to ensure their dogs are unlikely to attack people. Dogs need the opportunity to be around other dogs and people, according to breeders. Learning to speak your dog’s “language” and body language is key, Lecznar said, so that owners recognize behaviors.
“You wouldn’t adopt a Japanese child without learning to speak a little Japanese first,” she said.
When training dogs, positive reinforcement is vital, rather than punishments that injure or stun the animals. In the event your dog bites or attacks someone, homeowners and renters insurance policies may help defer liability costs. But in some serious dog attacks, the dog’s owner has no insurance, Wilkins said.
“Not only does the victim get scarred for life, they are out of luck getting any money from anyone,” she said.
Beyond owners working to keep their dogs safe and follow animal laws, much work is needed from law enforcement to keep communities safe. Funding is needed to train police officers, prosecutors and judges to understand animal laws and know how to apply them, attorneys said.
In this week's case, dog owner Cameron Tucker was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct after Logan Braatz was killed and Syari Sanders seriously injured.
“This type of incident is completely preventable,” Rock said. “But it’s important for people to understand what it means to be responsible in owning your animal.”
The following types of dogs are most often considered “bad breeds” by many insurance companies:
» Alaskan Malamute
» Chow Chow
» German Shepherd
» Pit Bull
» Siberian Husky
» Wolf Hybrid
Source: U.S. Insurance Agents/ usinsuranceagents.com
10 TIPS FOR PET PARENTS
There’s no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone. But there are things you can do to reduce the risk.
1. Adopt from an animal shelter that can fill you in on the dog’s background, personality and behavior.
2. Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible, possibly making them less likely to bite.
3. Socialize your dog by giving it the chance to meet other people and animals and see different places. Let your dog progress at its own pace and never force your pet to be around someone or something when it’s clearly fearful.
4. Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes to effectively teach good behavior.
5. Make your dog a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie your pet outside. Don’t leave the dog unsupervised for long periods of time, even in a fenced yard.
6. Don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. Seek help from professionals at the first sign of aggression.
7. Know the common triggers of aggression, including pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, and loud noises such as thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances.
9. Always supervise children and dogs. Never leave a baby or a child younger than 10 years old alone with a dog.
10. Fulfill basic animal-care responsibilities, including regular veterinary care.
Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com