Friday, March 9, 2012

Just the Facts

This week, I'm in Denver for work (the non-dog, nurse work). When I think of Denver, I think of two things: mountains and some of the more narrow minded breed specific legislation in the country. Negative prejudice is so much part of pit bull ownership that I barely notice it anymore. People who cross the street when they see my dogs and I out for a walk. They avoid my car if my dogs are sitting in it - even if all the windows are closed. And at least one coworker has told me, "I know you think your dogs are nice, but I'm still afraid of them."

Never mind the fact that there's no conclusive way to determine how many pit bulls bite or cause fatal attacks every year. "Pit bull" is not a breed, and there's no faster way to get a group of "pit bull people" arguing then to ask them to agree on what a "pit bull" is. Without consensus among breed fanciers, how is it possible for the public to be able to correctly identify a pit bull? So in order to look at any dog bite statistics, we have to look at all dog breeds, not just pit bulls.

Maus says, "No pit bulls here. Just us cows."

So what are the facts? The Pet Food Institute estimates that there are about 75 million dogs currently living in the US. According to the CDC, about 4.5 million people are bitten every year with 885,000 of those bites requiring medical attention. (Personally, I would really like to know how they're identifying bites that occur and do not require medical attention. Survey? Police reports? Show of hands? But it's the CDC, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.) Seems like a lot, right? But of those 4.5 million dog bites each year, there is an average of sixteen fatal dog attacks. 

That's a 0.0002 percent chance that if you are bitten by a dog, the bite will be fatal. 

There's a ton of information out there on dog bite prevention, so I'm not going to spend a ton of time repeating what's already been said. Instead, I'd like to put the "dog bite epidemic" into perspective. So here's a little food for thought:

4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. But . . . 

Compared to the sixteen fatal dog bites every year (from all breeds) . . . 
My goal here isn't to say that dog bites are okay or that you should be afraid of bathtubs or peanut or zeppelins. Dogs bites are a serious issue. But as with any of the above problems, education is the key to prevention, not fear and media sensationalism. As "pit bull" owners have been saying for years, "Educate. Don't legislate."