Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dog Bite study in NYC

Below are excerpts from a study conducted on the incidence of dog bites in New York City. Some of the facts pointed out by the report raise a couple of interesting questions. How does the parks department know which reported bites occurred within the borders of city parks? What percentage of dog bites are actually reported to the department of health?

From the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at New York University Medical Center. Received for publication November 17, 1999; revised January 31, 2000.

"Dog Bites in New York City"
Loren J. Borud, M.D., and David W. Friedman, M.D.

"The purpose of this review is to characterize the public health problem of dog bites in New York City. Dog bites represent a major source of morbidity, mortality, disability, and health care cost in the United States. The most severe injuries are frequently referred to the plastic surgeon. The authors have recently treated several severe cases of unprovoked dog attacks in children. To characterize the dog bite problem in New York City, data were obtained for 1998 from the New York City Department of Health. During that year, 6568 bites were reported by the mandated physician reporters in the five boroughs of New York City." (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 106: 987, 2000.)

* * * * *

"Dog bites represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. The associated pain and suffering, particularly in children, are incalculable. In addition to the expense of health care, there is substantial long-term disability to injured children. At Bellevue Hospital , the authors recently have treated several children for particularly severe and unprovoked dog bites. The purpose of this study was to define the scope of the dog bite problem in New York City."

* * * * *

"Data on all reported dog bites treated in New York City during the calendar year 1998 were obtained from the New York City Department of Health. Any dog bite injury treated by a physician in New York City must, by law, be reported to the local authorities. Data from the report forms are entered into a master registry. Information on each bite includes the date of injury, age and sex of the victim, anatomic area affected, the treating hospital, and the borough in which the bite occurred. The data did not include information on the treatment rendered to the victim, nor did it include the circumstances of the attack or breed of dog involved."

* * * * *

"The greatest number of attacks occurred during the summer months, peaking in June and July. A disproportionate number (32 percent) of all attacks occurred during the months of June, July, and August (see Fig. 5). Although we do not have specific data to explain this phenomenon, it is likely that during the warm summer months, dogs are more frequently outside, and more frequently in an uncontrolled environment in their interactions with both familiar and unfamiliar persons."

* * * * *

"Dog Bites in New York City
In 1998, the incidence of physician reported dog bites in New York City was 0.85 per 1000 inhabitants. This incidence is in concordance with other published reports. The National Center for Health Statistics National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (1992 to 1994) estimated the incidence of dog bites treated in emergency departments at 1.3 per 1000 persons per year.2 A national telephone survey gave a slightly higher estimate of 3 per 1000 persons requiring medical attention due to dog bites.1 Of course, many bites treated by individual practitioners in New York rather than in emergency rooms, where routine protocols are in place, are not reported. A recent study in Pittsburgh13 based on capture/re-capture data suggests that only approximately 36 percent of dog bites are in fact reported to hospitals, the police, or animal control authorities."

1. Sacks, J. J., Kresnow, M., and Houston, B. Dog bites: How big a problem? Inj. Prev. 2: 52, 1996.
2. Weiss, H. B., Friedman, D. I., and Coben, J. H. Incidence of dog bite injuries treated in emergency departments. J.A.M.A. 279: 51, 1998.
13. Chang, Y. F., McMahon, J. E., Hennon, D. L., LaPorte, R. E., and Coben, J. H. Dog bite incidence in the city of Pittsburgh: A capture-recapture approach. Am. J. Public Health 87: 1703, 1997.

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"Why Dogs Bite
According to the Humane Society of the United States,14 dogs bite out of fear or for protection of territory. Some dog breeds seem to be “genetically mean,” and may be more prone to attack than other breeds. The pit bull, rottweiler, German shepherd, husky, Alaskan malamute, and wolf hybrid have been responsible for the majority of dog bite-related fatalities.5 Breed-specific data are difficult to obtain because owners of high-risk, aggressive breeds may be less likely to register their animal with the local authorities.15"

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dog bite related fatalities: United States, 1995–1996. M.M.W.R. 46: 463, 1997.
14. Sinclair, L. Dog Bite Facts. Washington, D.C.: Humane Society of the United States, 1999.
15. Lockwood, R. Humane concerns about dangerous dog laws. Univ. Dayton Law Rev. 13: 267, 1988.

* * * * *

"Public education and legislation are the cornerstones of dog bite prevention. Such measures include the following14:

1. Behavior modification. Potential victims, especially children, should be taught that behavior sometimes influences the probability of attack. Running past an unfamiliar dog or startling the animal can trigger attacks. If approached by an aggressive dog, one should stand perfectly still and avoid making eye contact. If attacked, the victim should roll into a ball and “play dead.”

2. Public education of owners. Owners must be taught to appreciate the importance of proper training, care, and leashing of their animals.

3. Spay and neuter laws. Sterilized dogs are safer, less aggressive, and less likely to bite.

4. Legislation targeting dog owners. Legislation that holds the dog owner responsible for the pain and suffering of victims is being considered in many areas. More restrictive confinement and leashing laws are being widely debated. In some communities, enforcement of existing laws can make a difference. When the New York City Parks Department began enforcing leashing laws, handing out summonses for $100 fines, the percentage of leashed dogs in city parks rose from approximately 30 percent to more than 80 percent in less than 5 months.16

5. Breed-specific legislation. Laws that target high-risk breeds are controversial and generally have not been effective in communities that have implemented such legislation. The ultimate result of recent pit bull bans in Annapolis, Maryland, and Highland Park, Michigan, will be instructive. Cheektowaga, New York, has even limited the total number of dogs allowed per household to three.17

6. Improved reporting. To guide public policy and assess the efficacy of dog bite prevention measures, reports to local health authorities need to be much more thorough. In New York City, we recommend inclusion of data such as breed, history of prior aggression, circumstances of attack, degree of injury, and treatment rendered. In cases requiring inpatient care, hospitals should report the need for operative intervention and duration of hospitalization."

14. Sinclair, L. Dog Bite Facts. Washington, D.C.: Humane Society of the United States, 1999.
16. Martin, D. Leash patrol touts victory in city parks: Next, pit bulls. New York Times. July 29, 1999.
17. Martin, D. Political animals: Growling over dogs’ rights. New York Times. March 14, 1999.

In an article entitled "Off Leash Policy Raises Rancor Of Civic, Again" published in the newspaper "The Queens Chronicle", writer Colin Gustafson states, "Queens is home to more than 400,000 dogs, but had only two reported bites in the last seven years, according to the health department." I'm not sure who he spoke with at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or what source he used, but that number contradicts the above study. In that study Drs. Borund and Friedman write that in 1998 6,568 bites were reported. Of that total 96% were in NYC's five boroughs. The percentage breakdown is:

Brooklyn - 28%
Queens - 25%
Bronx - 19%
Manhattan - 13%
Staten Island - 11%
Other - 4%

96% of 6,568 = 6305.28
25% of 6305.28 = 1576.32

I would believe the doctor's number of over 1500 reported bites in Queens in 1998, as opposed to, Colin Gustafson's nebulous source's 2 reported bites in 7 years.

Does anyone in the media ever challenge the, obviously, ridiculous claims made by the off-leash lunatic fringe?