Reality bites: Dog attacks and the elderly
Thursday, August 04, 2016
Each year there are 4.5 million dog bites across the United States, and animal bites make up 1 percent of all emergency room visits at a cost of over $50 million a year. From 2005 to 2015, there were 360 deaths caused by dog attacks in the United States.
The majority of animal bites are from dogs, with children being most often the victim. However, the elderly and disabled are also particularly vulnerable — as I nearly discovered on a recent encounter.
I intermittently use walkers, canes or wheelchairs because of waxing and waning cardiomyopathy/muscular dystrophy. Being mobility impaired or in a wheelchair makes one more vulnerable to an attack by a dog. However, I discovered that this did not seem to concern the owners of a wheelchair repair facility I visited.
When I entered the shop, I found no staff person in the showroom, so I began calling out. No human approached, but a mid-sized muscular dog with aspects of a pit bull physique came out of an office and began displaying teeth while growling with his ears pinned back. He sleuthed toward me as I stood at the sales counter.
The animal was not going to let me pass, nor was it going to let me exit. He then crouched down and started toward me. I hopped onto the sales counter, tucked my feet up and curled my arms around them. It immediately occurred to me that had I been less mobile that day, I might have had teeth sunk into my leg by then.
While the dog relaxed, he would not allow me to come down off the counter. I had called out numerous times and had pulled out my cellphone out to dial 911 when a staff person finally entered.
The dog immediately became passive and even wagged its tail. The owner of the dog seemed to disbelieve my description of what had occurred.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips for situations when confronted by a dog:
- Stop! Stay still and be calm.
- Do not panic or make loud noises.
- Avoid direct eye contact with the dog.
- Say "No" or "Go Home" in a firm, deep voice.
- Stand with the side of your body facing the dog. Facing a dog directly can appear aggressive to the dog. Instead, keep your body turned partially or completely to the side.
- Slowly raise your hands to your neck, with your elbows in.
- Wait for the dog to pass or slowly back away.
I do not see hopping onto a sales counter and tucking oneself into a ball as a strategy on that list, but whatever works to keep the flesh on my body intact.
I think education for dog owners is appropriate. Studies show that dog owners often have a limited knowledge of dog behavior and are unaware of increased risk of dog attacks on vulnerable populations.
The owner of the dog showed little concern and was initially unresponsive. Having an aggressive unsupervised dog that wishes to protect its territory is a disaster and potential death waiting to happen in a facility that caters to disabled customers.
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