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Dog Bites

Dogs enjoy a reputation for being loyal, faithful, trustworthy companions. They are everything a best friend should be, and provide comfort, protection, and companionship for many people. Plenty of people think of their dogs like family and indulge them with goodies, toys, and treats as if they were their children. At the same time, it is important to remember that dogs are animals, and like any animal there are circumstances where they can be menacing. Dog bites and attacks are unfortunately common, and these violent and terrifying incidents can cause serious and potentially life threatening injuries. The scars left behind by dog bites are often both physical and psychological, and the repercussions of these injuries can continue to cause problems for victims long after the actual attack.

San Francisco Dog Bites and Attacks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are roughly 4.5 million dog bites reported each year in the United States. Dogs naturally appeal to children of all ages, and this appeal makes children more vulnerable to attack, and their injuries tend to overall be more serious and potentially lethal than other age groups. At the same time, adults are also at risk for being attacked, and San Francisco is unfortunately no stranger to this issue. Many San Franciscans still remember the horrific 2001 dog attack on Diane Whipple, the beloved St. Mary’s College women’s lacrosse coach who was brutally attacked and killed by her neighbor’s dogs. The story made both local and national headlines, as the owners of the dog were put on trial for murder for failing to muzzle or restrain their two 100 pound Presa Canario dogs, which the Deputy District Attorney at the time referred to as ‘loaded assault weapons’. Since that attack, other local stories have made the news, including recent cases in which an eight-month-old boy bitten by the family dog was hospitalized with serious injuries, and one in which a San Francisco police officer repeatedly bitten was forced to shoot a Bayview family’s dog to stop the attack.

Dog accidents are so common and pose such a threat to the public health and welfare that the San Francisco Police Department has a special unit just to handle dog attacks. The SFPD Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit investigates any reports or incidents involving dogs who exhibit aggressive or threatening behavior. Responding officers are able to impound a potentially dangerous dog until a hearing can be held. Hearings are generally held every Thursday, and suggestions are made as to precautions to take with the dog to ensure the public’s safety, such as using a muzzle, enrolling the dog in obedience training, and making sure the dog is properly contained. Often time, suggestions focus around instructing owners on what they themselves can do to control their animal and be more responsible pet owners.

Dog Bite Injuries

Dog bite injuries are a serious matter, and dog bite attacks can be particularly vicious. In the case of Diane Whipple as described above, the victim was bitten more than 70 times, with wounds that proved to be fatal. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), dog bites can cause deep puncture wounds and gashes, as well as crushing injuries from the force of their jaws. Dog bite wounds are extremely vulnerable to infection, as dog’s mouths carry multiple types of bacteria. When a dog bite occurs, the victim should be seen immediately for medical treatment. The wounds will be flushed and thoroughly irrigated to protect against infection, while gaping lacerations may require stitches. Local animal control will be notified of the bite or attack, and it is common practice to take pictures of the wounds to show the extent of the damage caused by the dog and for future use in any lawsuits or personal injury claims.

Preventing Dog Bites and Attacks

You may be able to help prevent dog bites and attacks by following these tips from the AAFP:

  • Never approach a dog you are unfamiliar with;
  • Do not run from a dog as that will only cause the dog to chase you;
  • If you think a dog is about to attack, stay perfectly still and do not scream or make loud noises;
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the dog;
  • If the dog lunges, offer it your jacket sleeve, handbag, or backpack – anything it can sink its teeth into that will not cause injuries to you; and
  • Report stray dogs, as well as any aggressive dogs you notice in your neighborhood.

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