By Kyle LoJacono
The Pasco County Health Department has seen an increase in dog bites during the last two years. The department and Pasco Animal Services are teaming up to reverse the trend.
The health department has had 695 reported dog attacks in the last six months, but one in New Port Richey spurred the recent push.
A year ago, Thomas Carter Jr. was killed after suffering more than 50 puncture wounds from an attack by the family’s pit bull mix breed. The infant was only seven days old.
Additionally, 133 dog attacks were reported to the department in March, the second-highest number of cases in a month since statistics have been kept in the county, according to its agency’s education director Rosemary Lyons.
Lyons added that 1,217 attacks were filed in 2009, which increased to 1,244 the next year. She added that fatalities are very rare, but generally happen with the very young or very old.
The death of the Carter baby followed another deadly incident in December 2009, when 22-month-old Dallas Walters was killed by a relative’s rottweiler-labrador mix breed at birthday party. Both animals were put down after the attack.
“No dog of any breed should ever be left unattended with children no matter how well mannered or even tempered,” Lyons said. “Children usually have high voices, they cry and they make sudden movements which can be misunderstood or upsetting to the dog, making attacks more likely.”
Lyons added that no one, adult or child, should approach a dog on a chain.
“They are usually on a chain for a reason,” Lyons said.
County residents who are bitten by any animal are required by Pasco law to report it within one working day to animal services to help treat and limit the spread of rabies. The same applies to anyone treating a bite victim.
Besides the health concerns associated with dog bites, the medical costs for major attacks are steep. More than 800 people in Florida were recently bitten by dogs badly enough to need hospitalization, according to Pasco health spokeswoman Deanna Krautner. She added the median cost of those stays was $17,000.
Krautner said unneutered male dogs are involved in more than seven of every 10 reported dog bites, emphasizing the importance of neutering.
In addition, the health department has some tips to reducing anyone’s chances of being attacked.
“There are things you can do to prevent dog bites,” said Pasco health officer Dr. David Johnson. “It’s important to discuss safety measures with your child and to be cautious when around unfamiliar animals.”
Common sense can prevent bites for…
Approaching an unfamiliar dog
–Wait and watch the dog’s body language.
–Ask the owner for permission to pet the animal.
–Let the pet sniff you.
–Pet the dog in the direction of his or her fur.
Safety tips for dog owners
–Before getting a dog, seek the advice of a veterinarian or animal shelter personnel about which dog is right for someone’s lifestyle.
–Spay or neuter a dog.
–Socialize the dog so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
–Do not put a dog in situations where it may feel threatened or teased.
–Follow leash laws. Do not let a dog roam freely.
–Train a dog to obey basic commands such as stay, sit and come.
–Keep a dog healthy with regular checkups and a vaccination program.
–See a veterinarian promptly if a dog is sick or injured. Illness and pain can make a dog more likely to bite.
–Do not play aggressive games with a dog.
–Confine a dog in a fenced yard or dog run when it is outside.
–Do not leave a dog on a chain for long periods. Chained dogs are more likely to bite.
–Never approach an unfamiliar dog.
–Never run from a dog and never scream around a dog.
–If you think a dog is about to attack, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
–If a dog knocks you over, roll into a ball, cover your face and stay still.
–Children should never approach or play with dogs unless supervised by an adult.
–Children should tell an adult if they see a stray dog or a dog acting strangely.
–Do not look a dog right in the eyes.
–Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
–Adults should never leave an infant or young child alone with any dog, not even the family pet.
–Seek medical attention immediately.
–Control bleeding and wash the wound with soap and water.
–Report the bite to the county health department, animal control agency or police.