ALBANY, Ga. -- There are plenty of good reasons to recognize the third week in May as National Dog Bite Prevention Week -- 4.5 million of them, in fact. That's how many people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States.
And the Peach State is ninth on the list, according to State Farm Insurance.
While no one wants to be bitten, there are dog bites and then there are, well, really bad dog bites, from larger and more powerful breeds. Occasionally, those bites result in serious injuries to the victims, especially children.
One particular breed, the so-called pit bull, continues to carry a questionable rap throughout the country. In many cases, though, even mixed-breed dogs are labeled pit bulls if they resemble the purebred American Pit Bull or American Staffordshire Terrier. Purebred or mixed, these animals are favored by unlawful individuals who fight them against similar dogs, often to the death.
Loved by many for their sweet and loving dispositions, others feel their powerful jaws and fighting tenacity warrant special laws for containment and control.
Just this week, an Albany woman was attacked by a "pit bull-like dog" as she walked to a friend's house on Ninth Avenue. Reportedly, injuries to her knee required major hospital treatment.
With Ward IV representative Roger Marietta in the lead, Albany City Commissioners are now proposing a new breed-specific dangerous dog ordinance, focusing on dogs such as pit bulls.
"That is a breed that has a proven propensity to bite," Marietta said during discussion at Tuesday's commission meeting. "We haven't seen a whole lot of it around here, but there are news items from all over the country of little kids being mauled by pit bulls."
According to animal control officials, the city's present dangerous dog law hinges on whether the dog demonstrates aggressive tendencies or is known to have bitten in the past.
Cpl. Bob James is dog trainer for the Dougherty County Police Department and past chairman of the Albany Animal Control Commission. He said he believes prevention of serious dog bites lies in human control of the animal.
"Dogs respond to their training or their lack of it," James said. "I think every owner should be required to attend obedience classes with their dogs and to demonstrate the animal can be controlled. After that, the dog should be allowed one bite before more drastic action."
Many breed-specific laws require DNA testing of the animals in the absence of clear identification. For designated dangerous breeds, special containment methods are mandated, and the owner is often required to purchase heavy insurance coverage.
It's hard to imagine anyone knowing more about dog bites than letter carriers, and the United States Postal Service has issued some general statements toward prevention:
- Never run past a dog you don't know. The dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
- If a dog threatens you, don't scream. Avoid eye contact.
- Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
- Don't approach a strange dog, especially one that's tethered or confined.
- If you choose to pet a dog, let the dog see and sniff you before you do.
- If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.