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Thursday, June 19, 2014 12:01 am

Somebody tell the dogs

Reflections on Dog Bite Prevention Week

The third week of May every year is Dog Bite Prevention Week. The American Veterinary Medical Association spent that week “educating people about preventing dog bites.” Their time would have been better spent educating the dogs, as we learned from the report that State Farm Insurance released describing claims paid for damages from dog bites. That year State Farm alone paid 3,670 dog bite claims nationwide. Californians filed the most (449) but Illinois (309) was second. Adjust for population, which one must, Illinois is revealed to be not the No. 2 state in this dubious category, but No. 1, and by a long shot – 23.9 dog-bite claims per million people in Illinois, compared to only 11.7 per million in California.  

No one who has been to the state fair can deny that Illinoisans are juicy temptations to any carnivore, and I suppose we should be grateful that only 309 State Farm customers had to file claims. But these claims were not filed because Rover dug up that mean old Mr. Krohe’s roses. “Bite” is a polite euphemism for attacks that usually involved emergency room visits. In Illinois, the average claim was nearly $29,000. In all, those claims cost State Farm (or rather cost their customers) more than $108 million in Illinois. (The Insurance Information Institute estimates that the industry as a whole in 2012 paid nearly a half-billion bucks in dog bite claims.) That, children, is a whole of money. State Farm could buy a congressional seat with the money that would be saved if Illinoisans gave up dogs, and congresspeople at least don’t bite their owners.

The AVMA says of the dogs that live in U.S. households, “Seventy million nice dogs . . . but any dog can bite.” Indeed they can, and they do it millions of times each year. Most of the victims are children, who, I am told, incite retaliation when they play in an inappropriate way with Fido. That such incidents are considered the child’s fault for not playing well with an animal that bites, rather than the parents’ fault for having an animal that bites in the house to begin with, confirms that the domestication of Homo americanus by the dog is complete.

I’m a live-and-let-live kinda guy, and if parents are happy to think of their toddlers as doggie snacks, fine. But when dogs cross their property lines, this kind of private absurdity becomes a public menace. One of the nearly 6,000 instances of postal carriers being attacked by dogs in 2012 happened last July down in Virden, where the USPS briefly suspended mail delivery on part of a street in Virden after a Rottweiler chased and then held the neighborhood mail carrier on a porch for 40 minutes. Harassing mail carriers into early retirement is not what dogs were created for. Postal Service supervisors are paid to do that.

Fido has always liked to chew on his master’s slippers, but in the old days he at least waited until the master was out of them. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports that nearly 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. (In 1989 the figure was only a bit more than two million.) One in five of these attacks results in injuries serious enough to require medical attention; in 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.

I have heard owners of dangerous dogs complain that it’s pretty dumb for people to blame a dog for being a dog. True, but it isn’t dumb at all to blame humans for keeping a dangerous one. Earlier this year Britain amended its Dangerous Dogs Act so that owners of dogs that kill face up to 14 years in jail. Here we put the dog in jail, as if it were a sentient creature, capable of taking responsibility for its actions. In Virden, that Rottweiler’s owner was warned that if the dog was caught running loose again, it might be impounded.

Might be? What might happen next was made clear in the video that briefly diverted America last month. An eight-month-old Labrador-Chow mix escaped after its owner left open a gate and attacked a toddler on a trike in his driveway, ripping the child’s leg as it tried to drag him down to the ground. Luckily, the boy’s pet cat then attacked the dog, which let go of the boy and fled. The boy needed 10 stitches to close gaping wounds. His mother, astonishingly, told reporters, “We aren’t upset with our neighbors.”

The recording was enjoyed by millions, I expect, as a cute cat video rather than a dangerous dog video, and by millions of others as further proof that dogs love to play with kids. I took it as proof that Americans are not dog crazy, they’re just crazy.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com.

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