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Owen Coughlin Jr.
Owen Coughlin Jr.
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When Cujo lives next door

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The dog: Man’s best friend. Loveable pet. Family member. Companion. Vicious animal.

Unfortunately, a dog – the same dog – could be defined by all of these terms. Having had one in my house my entire life, I can attest to the fact that they are amazing animals. Personally, I’d never want to live without one. But not all dogs are as friendly as mine.

Dogs injure, on average, approximately four and a half million people every year. Predictably, children are the most common victims. So as a parent, how do you stop your fun-loving kid from getting too friendly with a dangerous dog and getting hurt?

Though most dogs aren’t inherently vicious, some situations make them uncomfortable, just like humans. Dogs are sensitive animals, and putting them in the wrong position can lead them to act out in uncharacteristic fashion. Dr. Sophia Yin, author of The Art and Science of Animal Behavior, offers some tips to keep him or her from doing so:

  • Avoid getting in a dog’s face. How would you feel if a stranger got inches from your face, blabbering like a crazed fool?
  • Never touch a dog when it’s eating. No one likes to be harassed while trying to enjoy a meal. Just ask your local telemarketer.
  • Don’t pet a dog while it’s sleeping. I learned from my father at a young age that animals shouldn’t be disturbed while napping.
  • The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have done to you. I.e., do not tug on a dog’s tail. If some random dude came up to me and tried grabbin’ hold of my tail, I’d have to hit him.
  • Suppress the urge to play cowboy. Dogs are not horses, no matter how big they are.
  • Avoid yelling in the vicinity of a dog. Their ears are both powerful and sensitive. As a result, they aren’t big fans of loud noises.
  • Never hug a dog unless you’re positive that you have a close enough relationship with it to do so. As a comparison, though it’s customary to hug your good friends at times, you probably wouldn’t do it to a stranger. Even Juan Mann abandoned the Free Hugs Campaign.

As a side note, if dogs make you nervous, I would advise against taking up mail carrying as a profession. I delivered a local newspaper as a kid, and a fearsome Chihuahua regularly confused my leg for a chew toy.

On a more serious note, a child’s stature makes him more liable to suffer facial injuries if attacked. According to dogsbite.org, 1 in 6 dog bite injuries requires medical assistance, and 1 in 14 sends someone to the emergency room. A 2008 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study reported that infections, open wounds, cuts to the head, neck, and trunk, and fractured arms accounted for the majority of those ER visits. These injuries often require reconstructive surgery and additional surgical procedures over time, according to dogsbite.com, so, not surprisingly, medical costs have climbed the last several years. The site states that, in 2003, the average dog bite injury claim cost $19,162. In 2011, the claim amounted to $29,396.

As a testament to how many scary dogs may live next door, the Insurance Information Institute reported that dog bites account for over a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims. According to the 2008 study I mentioned above, “Dog bite-related [emergency room] visits were highest in the Midwest (109.9 visits per 100,000 population) and Northeast (108.5 visits) and lowest in the West (93.0 visits), while dog bite-related hospitalizations were highest in the Northeast (3.9 stays per 100,000 population) and lowest in the West (2.5 stays).”

You may wonder who pays the medical bills if your child gets bit. That answer varies from state to state. Dogsbite.com says, “Some states are governed by a ‘One Free Bite’ rule that shields dog owners from liability if the incident was the dog's first bite. Nearly 30 states impose statutory strict liability, making a dog owner legally liable to a victim who was bitten.” In these states, a dog’s typically docile – or predictably violent – behavior isn’t taken into account.

With the foregoing in mind, I suggest you teach your children that dogs should be treated with care and understanding. They’re wonderful animals, but, like humans, they have their own set of social anxieties. Treat them as you would like to be treated, and you shouldn’t have much of a problem keeping yourself and those around you from needing a personal injury lawyer.

3 Comments

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  1. Gary says:
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    Great article on people who have been injured by a dog bite! Thanks for helping people learn how to be safe and avoid dog attacks.

  2. Steve says:
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    This is a must read on dog bite injuries, and dog attacks

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    Thank you, gentlemen!