Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994

To best understand this article in the context of the Dog Bite-Related Fatality (DBRF) literature, please see National Canine Research Council’s complete analysis here.
Article Citation:
Sacks, J. J., Lockwood, R., Hornreich, J., & Sattin, R. W. (1996). Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994. Pediatrics97(6 Pt 1), 891-895.

National Canine Research Council Summary and Analysis:

Sacks, Lockwood, Hornreich, and Sattin (1996) reported on DBRFs in the United States covering 1989-1994. Sacks later co-authored the more comprehensive study described here, (Patronek et al., 2013), which remedied the data weaknesses in this study. They sought to gather new data on DBRFs and compare its characteristics to previous data. In particular, they were interested in whether “pit bulls” continued to be involved at a disproportionate rate to their general population. To assess the situation, three sources were used to gather data: Nexis search service, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and multiple-cause mortality tapes from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The primary conclusion was that breed specific prevention approaches were inappropriate and that prevention efforts should focus on responsible owner behavior.

Sacks et al. acknowledged the media’s unreliability in terms of breed identification, so they noted that they primarily used the HSUS for breed data. It is important to note, however, that visual breed identification even by animal care professionals has since been demonstrated to be extremely unreliable. However, the HSUS has since discontinued the practice of compiling DBRF case data because of the difficulty in verifying the data and the tendency of others to draw inferences from these very rare events to apply to dog bites and aggression in general. Sacks et al. did not elaborate further on what constitutes “primarily” or what source was used when they could not utilize HSUS. From the reports they identified 109 deaths caused by dog bites. Breed information was reported for 84 of 109, and of those 84, 24 were reported to be “pit bulls.” Furthermore, the authors make a point that the proportion of cases in which “pit bull” involvement was reported had fallen from 67% in the same lead author’s earlier study (1988) to 28% in 1994.

In their analysis the authors grouped dogs based on two factors: whether they were restrained at the time of the attack (yes or no) and location (on or off owner’s property). Both factors were under owner control. This factor examination points toward the more comprehensive list of co-occuring husbandry factors later identified by Patronek et al. (2013). Based on their findings, Sacks et al. recommend several methods to reduce DBRFs, specifically cautioning against breed-based interventions. They promote the notion that dog bites are preventable and can be avoided by educating the public regarding responsible dog ownership. They outline three approaches: patient education, community advocacy, and bite reporting. Neutering dogs and supervising young children are both recommended to prevent dog bites. The takeaway message was that communities should focus on problem owners rather than breeds or the dogs themselves.

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