Last updated on May 22, 2016
Dog bites affect 4.5 million Americans every single year. The American Humane Association says half of those 4.5 million dog bites affect children. Dogs are our best friends, family members, and a very important part of the lives of many people. Consider that, according to the American Pet Products Association, 65% of U.S. households own a pet, the propensity for a dog bite is high.
In honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week and to help people learn what to do to prevent dog bites, how to react if you are bitten by a dog, and how this also affects cats, we’ve got a special series for our readers.
To reduce the number of injuries to people and the risk of relinquishment of dogs who bite, American Humane Association offers the following suggestions:
- Never approach an unknown dog or a dog that is alone without an owner, and always ask for permission before petting the dog.
- Never approach an injured animal – find an adult who can get the help s/he needs
- Never approach a dog that is eating, sleeping or nursing puppies.
- Don’t poke, hit, pull, pinch or tease a dog.
CLICK THIS: How to Prevent Kids from Dog Bites
Fidose of Reality sought the help of Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton of Hamilton Law & Mediation, PLLC. She has been practicing law since 1983 and involved in mediation since 2010. Here’s what we learned about the law and dog bites:
The Law and Dog Bites
Hamilton says dog bite laws vary by state, with California and Colorado being the strictest.
“The owner of the dog who bit can be sued by multiple injured parties both for physical and emotional distress,” Hamilton shares. “ Dogs are routinely removed from an owner for rabies quarantine, regardless of a vaccination record, if the dog bites someone. Some states require them to be kept in solitary confinement which is so difficult for a pet to survive and will be neutered before returned to their owner.”
Who Does the Law Favor With Dog Bites?
According to Hamilton, the facts will be the determining factor of responsibility. If your dog bites someone you will have to defend your actions and his. If your dog is bitten, questions of circumstance and who was the initial aggressor or who had control of their dog may be raised. The trier of fact will determine the facts. Then it is the trier of FACT who decides which explanation is most plausible. This is a perfect place for mediation to be used as the parties can acknowledge the animal’s part in the incident and work together in the best interest all. In court the law will rule no matter if it is finding correctly. Mediation is not widely used by insurance companies until a client sues. If it was used earlier and with more of a view toward hearing everyone’s story more fair (in my humble opinion) solutions could be obtained looking at all the circumstances and the dogs prior reputation.
What If Your Dog Bites Someone?
This is tricky. Hamilton says that if If your dog bit someone, you should find an attorney who is willing to represent you. It will be very difficult and expensive. Most insurance companies do have a section in your homeowners for defense work if your pet bites. Everyone should read their policy to see just what is covered. If it isn’t and you have a breed that could be seen as aggressive (Pit Bull, Shepard, Doberman) you may want to put a rider on your homeowners to help differ costs.
Unfortunately, it is easier to find an attorney to sue the dog owner and recover monies than to defend the dog in any given circumstance. Pockets are seen to be deeper for the owner of the dog who bit especially if they have homeowners insurance. If you do not have coverage, get some!! A dog owner who has to defend defending on their own could be out tens of thousands of dollars. If you have supplemental it is more than likely your insurance will be canceled or tripled in cost after they defend your dog.
If something happens and your dog bites a person or another animal, exchange information, appreciate and acknowledge there was an incident. Say little about your dog and his/her past good/bad deeds, and call and attorney when you get home, according to Hamilton.
“You will also need to call your insurance company if the bite happened on your property. Untimely notice could give the insurance company the right to refuse to defend for failure to comply with reporting requirements,” she advises.
Opt for mediation if you can settle the matter outside the courthouse and not at the expense of the insurance company this would benefit all. The person what was bitten could tell their story and have assurances this will never happen again, the dog that bit will have humane treatment and things will be done to assure they are safe and others are safe around them and the parties will both feel as if they got the best outcome they could.
What if the Victim Wants my Dog Euthanized?
Hamilton says often the people who want the dog destroyed will soften if they are seen as traumatized by the dog owner. In the event the bitten party feels respected and that their feelings are head, this is a goal to avoid future issues.
In mediation, acknowledging and appreciating the way a person who has been bitten by your dog feels will lay the framework for them to listen to how you feel about your dog, how much you love your dog and what you intend to change in the care of your dog so this never happens again.
What Should Dog Parents Do To Prevent Dog Bites
Here’s what Hamilton recommends every dog parent do in order to prevent dog bites, which is the best advice (not allowing it to happen):
First, never leave a dog unattended. People who walk up to pet an otherwise sweet dog may end up getting bitten. Some dogs find strangers to be threatening if left along in a strange place.
This writer’s experience is to also know your dog’s body language and not to put them in situations where a bite may occur.
If you are having a stranger come to your house, perhaps a worker to do something indoors, always leash the dog or put the dog in a separate area. Sometimes dogs get uncomfortable with a stranger in the house and will become protective of their home.
“Always be aware of your surroundings in a dog park,” Hamilton recommends. :If it feels wrong take your dog away before something happens.”
CLICK THIS: Six Reasons I Stopped Going to the Dog Park
Because we have penned a piece on How to Prevent Dog Bites, we encourage you to check that out, and follow these bullet points to prevent dog bites completely:
- Never allow babies or small children to be alone with your dog, even a family pet.
- Teach children how to respect a pet, how not to be rough with the pet, and how to treat an animal in general.
- Never put a pet in a situation where he or she feels threatened and know your dog’s limits. A dog’s body language should be monitored.
- Keep a dog’s mind and body stimulated.
- Be alert: Never allow strangers to pet your dog unless you are certain the situation is stress-free.
- Use a leash in public to control your dog.
- The U.S. Postal Service reports that attacks on its carriers, however, have increased, which they attribute to last year’s increase of package deliveries by a half-billion. In 2015, there were 6,549 attacks, up 782 from the year before. Houston is the top market, with 77 reported attacks on postal employees last year. San Diego and Cleveland tied for second with 58 attacks while Chicago and Dallas tied for third with 57 attacks. Many dogs are territorial and may view letter carriers as a threat. Because many of these deliveries take place at a customer’s door, the U.S. Postal Service is asking Americans to “close the door on dog attacks” by placing their pets in a separate room with a closed door to decrease the likelihood of an attack. Better yet, teach your dog positive reinforcement techniques early on so that there is a friendly relationship with letter carriers, package delivery folks, etc. More on that in a forthcoming post.
Fidose of Reality has teamed up with the following blogs for a week-long series on dog (and cat) bites. Every day, be sure to visit these blogs for a complete series at week end:
Tuesday, 05/17: Random Felines
Wednesday, 05/18: Tenacious Little Terrier
Thursday, 05/19: Miss Molly Says
Friday, 05/20: Savannah’s Paw Tracks
Don’t stop now, here’s even more solid information to help avoid dog bites and prevent your dog from being a victim:
Read more about mediating these kinds of conflicts Hamilton’s new book, Nipped in the Bud-Not in the Butt—How to Use Mediation to Resolve Conflicts over Animals. It is available on her website: www.hamiltonlawandmediation.com
Stay tuned also because if you’ve ever been bitten by a dog, we have advice and steps to help overcome any fears you are currently dealing with…or perhaps you want a dog in your life but are scared. We’re here to help!