It is almost 2 years ago that my family learned one of the most valuable lessons of our lives. My daughter was violently attacked by a dog at a Father’s Day celebration. She was just past 18 months old at the time. Her beautiful, perfect un-touched face was torn open, and we spent the rest of that Father’s Day holding her while she endured pain, shock, terror, and finally, the emergency plastic surgery that put her back together. This day is one of the most painful days of my life, as well as one of the most painful days in my husband’s life. We know our daughter suffered and felt greater confusion, terror, and pain than she had ever imagined, and we experienced our own helplessness – we could not change what happened, and we could not take it away.
We were also incredibly fortunate that day. She could have lost an eye, lost the ability to move one half of her face, and she could have lost her life. There is not a day that goes by that I take her for granted since this event. And yes, this gratitude I feel for her , and her healing, is a huge gift.
I share our story as often as possible. My husband tells our story to every parent he knows. This year the ASPCA reached out to me asking me to please tell our story again for National Dog Bite Prevention Week. And here I am.
I am writing this article to make sure that you, your loved ones, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers and everyone in this world understand the importance of dog safety and awareness, especially when it comes to children.
The dog that attacked my daughter was an older, friendly, kid-friendly and much-beloved family pet. The owners were as shocked as we were that this happened. This was a dog with a loving home, with small children in the home, and who played daily with kids and showed no traceable signs of aggression.
So why did this happen? And why to us? There is no reason why. There are statistics that show that this is incredibly common – more common that you or I would like to admit or have be so. The only way to prevent more children and parents from suffering is to raise awareness around dog safety, and to be responsible, each and every one of us, for educating each other and holding one another accountable in the world. This means when I am walking with my daughter through my neighborhood that I speak to strangers who I see walking with their dogs off leash. Because a dog off leash in public is automatically a threat to young children. And dogs off leash are a constant threat to our little ones. I don’t want this to be true. It simply is.
Dog bite injuries are the third leading cause of emergency room admission for children, just behind bicycle and baseball injuries*. Not only are children the most common victims of dog bites, they are also far more likely to be severely injured by a bite. While most people think their dog would never bite a child, half of all bites are inflicted by the family dog, and only 10% of bites are inflicted by dogs unknown to the victim. (Source: ASPCA)
So, what do we do, moving forward?
As parents, I encourage you to take the following guidelines to heart. They appear here courtesy of the ASPCA:
- Ask permission from the dog’s guardian before petting an unfamiliar dog.
- Let a dog smell your hand before petting him or her. Then pet the dog on the shoulders or chest, not the head.
- Tell an adult immediately if you see a dog off-leash outside. Do not approach the dog yourself.
- If a dog does lash out, “feed” the dog your jacket, bag, or anything you can put between you and the dog.
- Touch or interrupt a dog who is sleeping, eating, chewing on a toy or bone. Dogs are more likely to bite if they’re startled or frightened.
- Go near or pet dogs behind fences, dogs in cars, or dogs chained or tied up in yards. Dogs can be protective of their home or space.
- Panic. If a loose dog is running toward you, avoid eye contact with the dog and stand very still, like a tree, until the dog moves away.
- Chase or tease a dog.
Parents should be aware that any dog can bite. Never leave your child unsupervised with a dog. Please share this post with everyone you know. One child’s life is all the difference we each need to make to have this be a safe world for kids.
*Infographic care of http://avma.org