adorable blur breed close up

We have a new arrival at our house, our goldendoodle, Olivia. Lovable as she is, she goes beyond what my training in managing toddlers led me to expect. Yes, toddlers at times do jump and even bite, but our Olivia is literally and figuratively over the top in that regard. 

With dog bites on my mind as well as on my forearm, then, I was especially interested in an 

article that came out just last week in the “Journal of Pediatrics.” The article’s authors, who were 

physicians at the University of Colorado, found an increase in visits to their emergency room for 

dog bites after their state’s stay-at-home order was initiated.

Now, these canine calamities cause about 340,000 visits to American emergency rooms each year, and about 40% are in children and teenagers. Do the math, and if Colorado’s experience is typical, you have a lot of dog bites there. And those are just the ones that go to the ER.

With statistics we now can sink our teeth into, let’s consider why this might be so. 

When you think about it, it’s not overly difficult to fathom. Dogs, like people, thrive on routines, and theirs, too, have been disrupted. There are more people at home. There are perhaps fewer trips outside (except, of course, the “necessary” ones) to the dog park or, given the social life our best friends have down here, to parties, restaurants and bars.

There are other logistical issues that may be contributing to dog bites. Kids are home full-time, and there may be less supervision from work-from-home parents. And many may be like the two of us, who have chosen this “down time” to acquire a yet-to-be-socialized puppy, with 

discipline a work in progress. 

Other than avoiding dogs altogether, there’s not much we can do about anything I’ve mentioned in terms of avoiding dog bites. But since bites can be serious, it makes sense to do our best to prevent them. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has collected a lot of good pearls for avoiding bites (go to www.aap.org and search for dog bite prevention tips). 

Among the recommendations: Don’t leave a small child alone with a dog, no matter how well-known or friendly. Avoid aggressive games and use slow, gradual movements, particularly around unfamiliar dogs. Let dogs take the lead and make sure the approach is friendly. (Sniffing appears to be a good sign).

There’s a COVID-related precaution that neither I nor the AAP (whose recommendations were 

published in 2017) have thought of, and it comes from Florida Keys SPCA executive director 

Tammy Fox. “Masks can be scary for dogs, cats and animals in general, so please be considerate of animals’ space, and use caution when approaching an animal you do not know.” (Fortunately, the number of reported bites in the Keys is actually down a bit compared to last year.) 

And if bites happen? Fox advises, “First call your doctor and follow their instructions. Then call animal control in your area to report the bite.” 

She suggests you collect the owner’s contact information, a description of the animal and details of the bite (such as date, time and location). 

Fortunately, rabies has been rare in the Florida Keys. As we are finding out, however, germs can come in from the mainland. If there is any doubt as to whether the animal’s rabies vaccination is up to date — particularly if it’s not your dog — ask to see the certificate. And dog bites do carry other risks, such as bacteria, bleeding and scarring. 

I certainly have a new appreciation for dogs and what they can do. I also appreciate how the 

COVID-19 crisis can affect us in all sorts of unexpected ways. Yet this is also a time when we’re (still) home a lot and have the time to train dogs and dog lovers alike. 

Making bites a rare event helps us appreciate the role of man’s best friend even more — and who better to be by our side in a crisis?

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