The scientific journal, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine recently (2/28/2018) published “An Update on Fatalities Due to Venomous and Nonvenomous Animals in the United States (2008–2015). The study found that while we need to beware of snakes, spiders and scorpions, a child is much more likely to be killed by a known dog. Additional research finds that “known dog” is twice as likely to be a pit bull.
The data, assembled by physicians Jared Forrester, Thomas Weiser, and Joseph Forrester of the Department of Surgery at Stanford University, found that each year there are over a million emergency room visits in the US caused by “problematic animal encounters”. The cost for human medical care associated with these “animal encounters” is about $2 billion a year!
According to the study these deaths and medical costs can “be cut through education, prevention methods, and targeted public policy”. These findings align with a position I advocated in a recent blog entitled, “Its time to consider targeted pit bull spay/neuter programs.”
Connecting the dots
What is startling about the study is not what it reveals, but the story lost in all the details.
For instance, editor/reporter of ANIMALS 24/7, Merritt Clifton reported in a March 11, 2018 article, that the study missed connecting the dots that the abrupt rise in dog attack fatalities is due to soaring pit bull attack fatalities.
He attributes this oversight to the fact that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention hasn’t included breed-specific information in its database since 1989. This omission has obfuscated the fact that pit bull-inflicted deaths per year tripled since 2007 and more than doubled a previous 1990 to 2006 study. Pit bull-inflicted disfigurements also increased tenfold since 2007.
What caused the increase in pit bull-inflicted mayhem?
Clifton sites the 2007 arrest of former football star Michael Vick and the concerted effort “to rescue, rehome and boost the image of pit bulls by the American SPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S. and Maddie’s Fund” as a possible catalyst for this calamitous spike in death and severe injuries.
Fake News or just lazy reporters?
The first to report on the study was Elsevier News, a leading publisher of scientific and medical journals. The news outlet describes itself as “a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance.” Despite this claim, Theresa Monturano, of Elsevier News missed a golden opportunity to provide the analytics that would have helped achieve their mission by issuing an unintentionally misleading headline ”Number of people killed by animals each year in the US remains unchanged”
All main stream media appears to have reported unchallenged and unquestioned only the gross data included in the Elsevier News. Unchallenged and unquestioned by all, that is, except by ANIMALS 24/7. According to Clifton, while the “number of people killed by animals each year in the U.S. remains unchanged” is technically correct, it is “inaccurate in implication”.
For instance, the study not only overlooked the steep recent rise in dog attack fatalities, it missed the fact that the rise is “entirely attributable to soaring pit bull attack fatalities,” said Clifton.
One reason this fact was overlooked by so many is probably due to the fact that the CDC only records the immediate cause of death. That is, only the literal cause of a heart stoppage or the cessation of brain activity is recorded by the CDC. This means, if an animal attack led to a sequence of events resulting in a heart attack, the animal’s role in the death is not included in the CDC database.
New York Times “Vital Signs” columnist Nicholas Bakalar reports the CDC database does have its “limitations.” For instance, the CDC “does not include fatalities from car crashes with deer and other animals,” – even though these incidents result “in about 200 deaths a year” (according to insurance industry sources). This means an animal’s role in the cause of a human death is not collected by the CDC due to “the limitations of information provided by death certificates.”
Not only does the CDC not collect this pertinent data, it does not include the breeds of dog involved in fatal attacks. Consequently, important information that could and should be used to drive public safety programs is not readily available without deeper research.
ANIMALS 24/7 to the rescue
Fortunately, data collected by ANIMALS 24/7 since 1982 is breed-specific. Consequently, we are able to connect the dots missed by the Stanford study and most media outlets. The ANIMALS 24/7 data shows pit bulls and pit bull mixes inflicted at least 97 of the 250 dog attack deaths counted by a 1999-2007 study (39%) Then the number of deaths more than doubled to 218 of the 272 deaths counted from 2008-2015 (80%).
According to Clifton, the study did not ignore dog attack deaths, but missed the significant role of pit bull involvement by concluding “Dog-related fatality frequencies are stable.”
The study did note that 95 children under 10 years old were killed by dogs over the eight years. The fatality rate from dog attacks on children under age 4 was twice as high as for people over age 65, and four times higher than that of other age groups – which led to the recommendation that “Prevention measures aimed at minimizing injury from animals should be directed at certain high-risk groups such as farm workers, agricultural workers, and parents of children with dogs.”
Jared Forrester drove the point home by further stating, “Children under 4 are at substantial risk. And it’s usually family dogs or dogs known to the children who are doing the killing. It’s up to public health professionals and parents to prevent these interactions. These are preventable deaths.”
How to solve the pit bull problem in your community