Last week my friend's toddler was bitten by a dog.
She was bit on the face, on the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. The worst possible place for a child, or anyone, to get bitten is in the face. But, unfortunately, 77% of children who experience dog bites get bitten in the face.
But the worst part... It was their own dog.
Apparently, from what I've heard (I was not the one who spoke to my friend on the phone. Mr. C relayed this information to me) the bite was not horrible or disfiguring. It wasn't even bad enough to warrant (in their mind) a trip to the doctor. Our friends claim there were two punctures wounds, but from what I've gleamed from the second hand knowledge I received I have doubts that the wounds were in fact really punctures and not just deep scratches. Yes, there is a difference. A dog knows what it's doing when it bites someone. A scratch, though still a bite, is more of a warning than a puncture. If a dog bites and the bite results in puncture wounds the dog means business. And business is bad.
Obviously, my friends were very upset that their aging cocker spaniel would bite their child because the girl tried to take a toy away from the dog. I don't blame them, it's horrible that their dog would bite their child. They called to not only tell us about what happened but to inquire as to whether or not I could help them find a home for this dog. A dog that has now bitten a child. I told them to call the local breed specific rescue (in this case, a rescue that specializes in cockers) or cut out the middle man and go directly to the breeder from which the animal came. Any breeder worth their salt will at least aid a family in placing a dog with the correct person. But because the animal has bitten it can't go with a family with young children, a couple who is planning on having children in the future, or a single person or couple who has relatives or friends who come to their home with children. That significantly decreases the odds on this dog finding a suitable home in the near future, or ever for that matter. It does not look good for the dog.
I have very strong opinions on dog bites - if a dog has bitten a child the dog is history. Period. End of story. Not in a medical, bought the farm kind of way (though, some might argue with me on that point) but in a the dog needs to find a new home immediately kind of way. Because if Rover bites once there is a much greater likelihood that he will bite again. He knows he can use his teeth instead of wasting time with a warning growl and he'll get the desired result quicker, whatever that result may be. Now, from what I've already stated, the chances of this dog finding a suitable home are slim, in the meantime I have no idea what they will be doing with their dog.
This situation upsets me on so many different levels and I'm horribly conflicted about how I should handle this with my friends.
On one hand, my friends are your typical, naive dog owners. Not everyone, I have to remind myself, has the desire to research dog behavior as I do. Besides, the dog bit a child, blame should not lie with the girl, even if she was the one to try to take a chew toy away from a dog. She's the innocent victim due to her young age and limited knowledge. But on the other hand, though the blame should fall partly on the dog, it should fall mainly on my friends' shoulders. By being naive (not stupid, just unwilling to educate themselves properly) they essentially set their dog up to bite someone. This situation could have been avoided if they would have taken a few correct steps along the way instead of completely disregarding any common sense. They did everything you shouldn't do when you have a dog - or in their case, two dogs - and small children together in the same house.
Case in point, the dog (the second one they acquired from the same "reputable breeder" as the puppy they brought home a few months before. I have my doubts about the reputable part.) was an adult, intact male that the breeder had little need for anymore. He wasn't actually purchased, but adopted, on a whim. The background they had on the dog's history was sketchy, at best. When my friends brought him home, recently neutered, they didn't take either dog to any sort of training class. Neither dog was properly socialized with children or other dogs. And when it came time for a new baby to enter the family the dogs weren't, to my knowledge, eased into a new life that was soon to include a very active toddler. The dogs went from pampered pets to second-class citizens very quickly. Some dogs could take that new role in stride, but this particular dog already had problems and no measures were taken to make the transition less stressful on him.
There's more to the story, of course. I knew the dog had begun to growl at the girl and I told my girlfriend that something had to be done about it. Hello, you have a friend who is a dog trainer. Take advantage, please. But the conversation was quickly changed and never brought up again. I found out later that my girlfriend and her husband had taken to gating both dogs in a room due to fear of what the male dog would do when the girl was around. Gating (or crating) is not a bad idea, sometimes. But excessive restraining will often times make the dog more frustrated and, therefore, more aggressive. Especially when the dog is not used to any sort of restraint. Unfortunate, but true.
If they were worried about the dog and the girl being in the same room together, supervised by the mother (kids should always be supervised around dogs, even if it's your own dog), they should have found the dog a new home. But, like most people, I'm sure they thought they could manage the situation. They didn't want to deal with the guilt or trouble of adopting out their dog. I don't blame them for that, but I do blame them for recognizing a bad situation and not doing anything about it.
The young girl is physically and emotionally fine, thank goddess for small miracles, but the dog, who is now entering his twilight years, will need to be re-homed or he will end up being put down like millions of other dogs in this country are every year. He has a history of biting so he's not the perfect candidate for adoption as so many other dogs in shelters and rescues are. His outlook is grim. A girl was bitten and a dog might die and if my friends would have done something as simple as pick up a book both may have been avoided. I'm sad for them all and, frankly, disappointed.
They're now an unfortunate statistic.
The website I linked to above, from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, is a fantastic and concise bit of information about dog bites and how you can avoid them. If you'd like to know more:
The Humane Society of the United States has a great site
So does the CDC
And, I've never heard of the Dog Scouts before, but in my searching I came across their site. Good information there too.
There's lots of information out there, for free on the internet or at your local bookstore. Or contact a trainer (need to find one? Go here. Yes, I'm affiliated with them, at least until I let my membership run out a few months ago. Gotta update that!). Don't be afraid to ask for help if you have a problem with your dog. You could be saving a life.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Last week my friend's toddler was bitten by a dog.