As a therapy dog handler, I am more cautious when I visit facilities with children. Children can rush upon my dog, put their arms around her neck, punch her more than pat her, pull her hair, and other things. One autistic boy clamped his hand so tightly to her back that she was whimpering while two teachers took half a minute to unlock his grip. Fortunately, Chloe is highly trained and something of a teddy dog (see the picture on the bio of this blog), and has never bitten anyone.
Yet not all dogs react so calmly to such situations and children get bitten, particularly when pack behavior takes over in a group of dogs. A study of the unique features of fatal dog attacks of children found that just two dogs can produce extreme injuries, even decapitation. Although there are one to four million nonlethal dog bites in the United States every year, around 25 to 35 will be fatal, about half of which involve infants and young children. Dog bites of children are much more often to the head and neck region than the rest of the body, unlike police dog bite patterns that occur in suspect apprehensions (see blog of June 15, 2010). A website that regularly reports dog bite statistics is that of Beverly Hills attorney, Kenneth Phillips, just called Dog Bite Law.
In one attack described by German and Australian researchers, two pit bulls attacked a six-year-old boy on a playground, first going after the boy’s ball, then going after the boy. The boy weighted less than 50 pounds. The left jugular was severed. The facial destruction is indicated by the dark portion of the upper left drawing in the figure reproduced here. The dogs had two separate owners, both of whom were present during the attack and unable to stop it. The owner of the male dog was found guilty of manslaughter and served three and half years in prison. The owner of the female dog, also present, served 18 months for manslaughter. Case 2 resulted when a girl was playing with two German shepherds, which attacked her when she fell over. Case 3 also involved two German shepherds, but the girl was not found until she was dead. The dogs were still attacking her. Case 4 involved a three-week-old baby who was attacked by the family dog, a large male mixed breed terrier weighing around 90 pounds. The boy was decapitated. The dogs were all euthanized and generally autopsied for physical diseases without anything being found.
Attacks are usually motivated by aggression, not hunger, according to the researchers. They note that dogs usually attack the head or neck region of a child, or sometimes the abdomen and trunk, causing significant blood loss. Another study found that at least 25 different breeds were involved in 238 deaths in the U.S. over a 20-year period. Pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds were more commonly involved than other breeds. Male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than female dogs, chained dogs 2.8 times more than unchained, and sexually intact dogs 2.6 times more than neutered. Male dogs may be more likely to consume parts of victims, though statistics on this appear slim.
Children are at risk because they sometimes try to play with dogs, or provoke them by attempting to take away food. Provocation has been accepted by courts as a defense or in mitigation of damages. See, e.g., Enquist v. Loyas, 787 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. Ct. App. 2010) (girl trying to play with black Lab mix was bitten on eyelid and area above her eyebrow and her neck was punctured by the dog’s claws; in addition to permanent scarring, girl had to receive rabies injections; whether child provoked dog by putting her arm around it was a question for the jury; jury awarded $15,000 for past pain and suffering but failure to award damages for permanent scarring was not reversible error).
The German and Australian team, in their 2007 paper, recommend the following steps in the autopsy evaluation of a fatal dog attack:
Description of the events leading up to the attack
Description of the attack
Description of attempted resuscitative measures
Characteristics of the dog (age, sex, breed, desexed or not, tethered or free ranging)
History of the dog’s behavior
History of the dog and victim’s interaction
Evaluation/examination of the scene, with photographic documentation
of the position of the victim and likely site of the attack
Age, sex, medical and psychological history
Weight and height
External examination with collection of trace evidence (eg, dog hair)
Photographic and diagrammatic documentation of wounds
Internal examination documenting lethal and nonlethal injuries
Samples for toxicology
Involvement of a veterinary pathologist if possible
Details of the breed of dog and previous aggressive actions (as above)
External examination for identifying features (eg, collar, tattoos)
External examination for scars or injuries to indicate possible
involvement in organized dog fighting or maltreatment
Collection of external trace evidence (e.g., victim’s blood, clothing fibers)
Examination of oral cavity
Internal examination for (i) stomach/intestinal contents; (ii) underlying diseases/conditions
Samples for toxicology
A study by six scientists from Kyushu University and other institutions in Japan was able to identify which Dachshund, of three in the household at the time, was responsible for killing a baby. There were extensive wounds to the baby's head and face. The scientists used DNA analysis to identify the offending dog.
Sources: Tsokos, M., Byard, R.W., and Puschel, K. (2007). Extensive and Mutilating Craniofacial Trauma Involving Defleshing and Decapitation: Unusual Features of Fatal Dog Attacks in the Young. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 28(2), 131-136; Sacks, J.J., Sinclair, L., Gilchrist, J., et al. (2000). Breeds of Dogs Involved in Fatal Human Attacks in the United States Between 1979 and 1998. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 217, 836–840; Gershman, K.A., Sacks, J.J., and Wright, J.C. (1994). Which Dogs Bit? A Case-control Study of Risk Factors. Pediatrics, 93, 913–917; Avner, J.R. and Baker, M.D. (1991). Dog Bites in Urban Children. Pediatrics, 88, 55–57 (finding 94% of pit bill attacks to be unprovoked compared with 46% overall); Shields, L.B.E., Bernstein, M.L., Hunsaker, J.C., and Stewart, D.M. (2009). Dog Bite-Related Fatalities: A 15-Year Review of Kentucky Medical Examiner Cases. American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology, 30, 223-230 (see particularly Figure 4, showing comparison of dentition of suspect dog to wounds on the victim); Aldko Tsuji, Atsushi Ishiko, Hirohisa Kimura, Masanobu Nurimoto, Keiko Kudo, and Noriaki Ikeda (2008). Unusual Death of a Baby: A Dog Attack and Confirmation Using Human and Canine STRs. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 122(1), 59-62; Albert Y. Chu, Mary G. Ripple, Carol H. Allan, Jon R. Thogmartin, and David R. Fowler (2006). Fatal Dog Maulings Associated with Infant Swings. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(2), 403-406 (analyzing three fatal dog mauling of infants left in mobile swings; in all cases the attacking dog was a family pet).
Additional Notes. A paper in the Journal of Forensic Sciences by Colard et al., analyzing post-mortem mutilations by domestic dogs, found the following:
"Through 41 cases, 10 at the forensic institute in Lille (France) and 31 at the New York City Office of Cheif Medical Examiner (USA), plus 22 cases from the literature, specific locations and patterns of postmortem scavenging lesions are proposed. These lesions are mainly distributed in three locations: the face, especially the nose and the mount (73.1%), the neck (43.1%), and the arm (shoulder/upper limb (29.2%), hand (26.8%)."
Colard, T., Delannoy, Y., Naji, S. Gosset, D., Hartnet, K., and Becart, A. (2015). Specific Patterns of Canine Scavenging in Indoor Settings. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 60(2), 495-500.
In a 2012 South Carolina case, a boy was found dead in a neighbor's yard, surrounded by at least three dogs. The owner was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. On appeal, the defendant claimed that seven photographs that were introduced into evidence were unduly prejudicial. The photos were taken of the boy's body by a forensic pathologist before the autopsy. The photos showed that "the dogs ate a significant portion of the boy's flesh," something that was otherwise established by the testimony of the pathologist, who had stated:
"There were extensive traumatic injuries consisting of loss of skin and soft tissue in a tearing fashion about the face, the ears, the eyes, the neck, the chest. There was loss of skin and soft tissue with exposure of the bones of both shoulders. Essentially, the humeral bone in the upper arm, both right and left, was exposed from the shoulder to the elbow."
The pathologist also testified to "loss of skin to the face to include the nose, the ears, and all soft tissues around the lips with exposure of the mandible, which is the lower jaw, teeth, and the underlying bony part of the skull.... The ears and nose were completely eaten away."
The appellate court concluded that the photos added little to the jury's ability to understand the pathologist's testimony, and that there probative value was minimal. The court said that the "danger of unfair prejudice of the admitted photos is extreme," and reversed and remanded for a new trial. South Carolina v. Collins, 2012 WL 469719 (Ct. App. 2012)