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Animal Attacks: Keeping Children Safe

Animals and Children Together

There are 65 million dogs and 77.6 million cats in U.S. households. 72% of all parent households have one or more pets at home. Many studies show that the unconditional affection of a pet can be a positive influence on a child’s development. Pets can relieve anxiety, teach important lessons about life and responsibility, and provide emotional continuity when parents are absent. Pets can be loyal, accessible companions throughout the childhood years.

Unfortunately, there is often trouble when animals and young people are together. With their natural exuberance and limited understanding of animal behavior, children may tease, overexcite, or unknowingly threaten a pet, leading to a sudden attack. Bite and scratch injuries are one of today’s leading health risks for children. According to JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), dog bite injuries rank second among the common causes of emergency room visits for young people. Surprisingly, more than 70% of all bite injuries are from an animal the child knows – a household or neighborhood pet.

A National Epidemic

Dog bite injuries have been called a national epidemic. There are some 5 million reported dog bites every year according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Undoubtedly, many more attacks go unreported and untreated. The problem is growing worse. During the last decade, the number of bite injuries increased by 33%. While reported cat bites are not as numerous, an estimated 700,000 people a year are bitten. Up to half of all cat bites become infected.

Children are three times more likely than adults to suffer an animal-inflicted injury. And their injuries are much more likely to be serious. 77% of bite injuries to children under ten are facial. Pediatrics notes that because of a child’s small stature and lack of developed motor skills, “Injuries to the head, neck, and face areas are common in young children and often result in serious trauma that may require hospitalization." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50% of all children will be bitten by a dog by the time they are twelve. There are more ER visits for dog bite injuries than for playground accidents, or for skateboards and inline skates combined.

In most cases, the attack is not the animal’s “fault.” It is simply the child’s unaware and inappropriate behavior that elicits an instinctive sudden response.

The Good News

With all of these alarming statistics, the good news is that most bite injuries are preventable. Just as we teach our children to dial 911, cross the street safely, and avoid dangerous situations with strangers, we can teach them how to behave safely around animals.

Education is the key. The Harvard Health Letter says “Children should be taught how to approach and handle pets, read their warning signs, and avoid high-risk situations.” From the Berkeley Wellness Letter: “Children in your household should be taught a few simple rules about handling cats in order to avoid being scratched or bitten.” According to Dr. Kim Blindauer, epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Dog bite prevention programs especially need to target elementary school age children because they are at greatest risk for serious injury and death from dog bites.”

This is what “Dogs, Cats & Kids” is all about. It shows young people how to be safe with pets and strays. It creates respect for animals without instilling fear. It helps children build happy, healthy companion animal bonds that can be the foundation for a lifetime of pet guardianship. Children in households without pets also benefit because they often come into contact with neighborhood pets or free-roaming strays.

While no prevention strategy or technique can be a guarantee against a bite or scratch, the “Dogs, Cats & Kids” video incorporates the recommendations of nationally recognized animal behavior authorities and leading companion animal organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States. The video is entertaining, easy to understand, and non-threatening. Children love the program.

“Dogs, Cats & Kids” was developed by Donald Manelli, former head writer of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” the most popular wildlife series ever broadcast on American television, and Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, an internationally renowned authority on companion animal behavior and former president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

As Dr. Hunthausen says, “These are simple lessons kids really enjoy learning. The program is a lot of fun, and it could prevent serious injury or even save their lives.”

“Some of the video’s best advice focuses on
reacting to a potentially dangerous stray dog.”

Cincinnati Enquirer

© 2011 Donald Manelli & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.