Fatal Dog Bite in Norfolk Reminds That All Breeds Can Be Dangerous | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Ask any veterinarian, rescue society, breeding organization or pet lover, and you will hear, “There are no ‘dangerous’ dogs–only bad owners.”

That stock answer is true to the extent that no particular breed of dog is statistically more likely to bite or attack a person. In truth, every dog has the potential to harm an adult or child. Dogs bite when they feel threatened or startled, when they get injured, and, yes, when they are poorly trained or socialized. The strength and size of dogs such as pit bulls or Rottweilers make them more likely to cause serious harm or even death, but even those dogs can–and should–be trained to be calm and friendly.

I got on this line of thinking when I opened the Virginian-Pilot on Tuesday, Dec. 15, and read about the accidental dog bite death of Jacksonville, North Carolina (NC), resident Theresa Ann Ellerman. She was visiting friends in Norfolk over the weekend when a malamute bit her in the neck.

Malamutes are hardly the first dogs that come to mind when one thinks about dangerous breeds. According to the American Kennel Club, “The Alaskan Malamute is an affectionate and friendly family dog. He is highly intelligent and learns quickly, but can also be strong-willed, so training should start early.”

Two other facts from the article struck me. First, an estimated 4.7 million Americans get bitten by a dog annually. Second, even with this high injury rate, only about 12 Americans die in any given year after being attacked by a canine. These stats prompted me to click around online for more information on dog bites, and I found out that, in all, some 885,000 U.S. residents require emergency medical care each year because of dog bites.

So it seems obvious that any dog can cause serious harm given the right combination of wrong circumstances. Ensuring that the worst does not happen is everyone’s responsibility, as the American Veterinary Medical Association stresses on its website. Pet owners need to choose dogs that can live comfortably as members of the family. Owners should also have their pets spayed or neutered and take the time to train their dogs to submit to all humans’ commands.

Children, especially, need to learn to never run up to dogs they do not know, to never play roughly with any dogs, and to never scream and run away from dogs that act aggressively.

On a final holiday note, dogs can often get mentally and physically overwhelmed by parties, loud noises and general excitement like the kind young children exhibit when unwrapping presents. If a dog starts misbehaving, remove the animal from the commotion by putting it out in the yard or taking it for a walk. Also, do not give puppies as presents. Wait until after the holidays to bring a new pet into the house.