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August 14, 2014

Experts: Report aggressive dogs to authorities to keep safe

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

What’s the best way to stay safe from aggressive dogs as you enjoy a stroll, a ride or run through your neighborhood? And what do you if you are bitten?

If you are in a confrontation with a dog, Dr. David Donaldson, an emergency medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, said protect your face and throat. He noted that the majority of dog bite injuries occur on hands and arms.

Donaldson said that, in Michigan, a report of medical treatment of a dog bite generates a mandatory report with law enforcement.

“If the skin is broke, you should be concerned,” he said “Rabies is extremely rare but potentially preventable. Always err on the side of caution.”

If the dog cannot be found, the patient is offered treatment involving a series of shots, Donaldson added.

“The patients most at risk are small children and the elderly,” he said. “That’s where we see the most severe injuries.” 

Donaldson said at Beaumont in Troy, most dog bite cases involve either family pets or a neighbor’s dog, rather than a stray dog.

Joanie Toole, chief of operations for Oakland County Animal Control, visits schools to talk to children and offers tips to children to stay safe from aggressive animals.

“I tell kids never to approach a strange dog, even if it seems friendly,” she said. And if children do find themselves in a dangerous situation with a dog, “put something between you and the dog, a bike or backpack will work.” She added that dropping a scarf or mitten will sometimes distract the dog long enough to go for help. 

“Never run from the dog and don’t turn your back,” she said. “Walk away slowly and don’t scream.”

“If the dog does knock you down, protect your head and inner body. Roll into a ball with your hands on top of your head and remain as calm as possible,” Toole said. “The more you struggle, the more it incites their prey drive.

“And always supervise children and dogs,” Toole stressed. “Never leave them alone.”

If a dog has confronted you off its property, even if you have not suffered a bite, contact animal control, Toole said.

“If it is off its own property, we need to start tracking the incidents. We’ve got to know about these incidents, even if it doesn’t break skin. An aggressive, large-breed dog, it’s going to hurt somebody.”

Toole said that animal control officers would educate dog owners that their animal is behaving aggressively and let them know they are liable if the dog hurts someone and urge them to have the dog properly trained.

“If it does break the skin, the dog is quarantined as soon as possible,” Toole said. Dogs are quarantined and watched for any signs of disease for 10 days following the incident. Actually testing a dog for rabies requires euthanizing the dog.

Kim Walton, animal control officer for Sterling Heights, has also worked in animal control in Eastpointe and Warren. She said she is especially proud of the dangerous animal ordinance Sterling Heights enacted in February of 2011.

Under the ordinance, Sterling Heights animal control officers can identify a potentially dangerous dog and also determine if there are mitigating circumstances such as the dog being tormented by the victim. If the dog is determined to be potentially dangerous, under the ordinance, the dog must be kept within a secure fence or on a leash, when off its property; it must be kept on a leash no longer than four feet, must be under the control of a capable person and must be microchipped. Also, the owner must provide two recent color photographs of the dog and have a minimum of $250,000 in liability insurance. The dog must meet requirements of the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program and be registered with the city for a fee of $50. Failure to comply with ordinance requirements could result in a civil fine of $500 for the first offense.

Walton explained that a scratch from a dog is still categorized as a bite, because there is an exchange of bodily fluids. She said that in Sterling Heights, many dog bite cases involve someone that is trying to help a stray dog, which bites out of fear.

Walton said that it is best to report a dog bite to police if you don’t know the dog or the owner.

Rabies shots are a requirement in order to obtain a dog license, and animal control officers can check the license and follow up with the veterinarian, who in some cases won’t release the information to the victim of a dog bite, Walton said.

She said it’s important to call to report a dangerous dog, whether you are bitten or not.

“What’s next time going to look like if nothing is done?” Walton said said.

“We meet the dog, evaluate the situation and make sure it’s not a danger to the community. A variety of breeds bite for a variety of reasons. If it’s reported, we’ll go out there and see if the dog is sick or being abused or neglected, and find why is this animal biting and what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.