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Government audits fresh data on dog attacks


CDC official takes hard look at who's being bitten and why; children greatest fatalities

Atlanta-As reports of deadly dog attacks litter the news media, government officials plan to release telling data focusing on the victims of vicious encounters and their characteristics.

"This is our attempt to summarize what's already out there and dislodgesome myths," says Dr. Kim Blindower, a veterinarian with the Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention."A lot of people are being bitten, especially children, and people'sperceptions are really influenced by reports by the media, which gives thesecases a lot of attention."

In the spotlight

And she's right. In February alone, DVM Newsmagazine detected nine mediareports involving dog attacks, not including items on the highly publicizedtrial surrounding the death of Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old San Franciscowoman fatally mauled last year by two Presa Canario dogs.

The dogs' owners are charged in Whipple's death.

"It's certainly not your typical dog mauling case, especially becauseI think there are some responsibility issues with the owners," saysDr. Gail C. Golab, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) officialinterviewed by CNN when the story broke. "But almost without exception,most dogs that cause fatalities tend to be fairly large, strong dogs, whichonly makes sense."

Also in February, a pack a Rottweilers killed a 10-year-old Wisconsingirl, a woman was viciously attacked by a neighborhood dogs in Detroit anda Florida 7-year-old incurred severe bite wounds when two Rottweilers attackedhim.

Tallying the numbers

"I don't know if there have been more attacks," says Golab,"but certainly there's been more attention focused on dog bites."

CDC officials estimate dogs bite more than 4.7 million people each year,causing 17 deaths on average annually. More than half those fatalitiesare children.

"Children are just the right size because their body parts are proximalto a dog's face," Golab says. "Children tend to do things thatstimulate the dog into acting, like moving quickly or running, and theyend up being a target. They tend to not always be cognizant on how to behavearound dogs and bother them when they're engaged in other activities."

Last spring, Golab developed the AVMA dog bite prevention program toeducate the public on canine aggression and bite statistics. It's objectiveis to thwart breed banning legislation that some communities are tryingto adopt.

"Breed bans seem to be cropping up, but clearly they're not theanswer," she says. "They're too drastic and impossible to enforce."

Public outcry

But the public, according to a CNN online survey dated February 21, wantsdrastic measures taken. Of those polled in the survey, 60 percent were infavor of breed bans.

Golab says she hasn't determined how random or representative the newsorganization's sample is but admits it reveals public concern.

"I was a little shocked when I heard the numbers," she says."I think people are watching more closely and have a tendency to overreact.But the awareness itself is probably a good thing."

Tracking the statistics

That's why Golab, working in cooperation with Blindower, plans to publishan article on the CDC's data in the Journal of the American Veterinary MedicalAssociation this summer.

The data takes a look at the epidemiology of dog bites, breaking informationdown in terms of victims' age and gender. It also studies the victims' characteristicsunrelated to age and gender, where they were and the dog's characteristics.

"We're trying to pull together all the available data on dog attacks,"Blindower says, "Every time we put an article out, we say that directattention on breed bans isn't the answer, but it's hard to do much morethan that."

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