11.26.2013

Mitigating Circumstances

*Warning: There are graphic photos below showing injuries after a dog attack.

The Somerville Patch ran a story regarding a dog in Somerville who is slated for euthanasia after "biting a person". The quotes are from the Change.org petition to save Rocco, the Mastiff who bit the man.

The important piece that is missing from the reporting is that the Mastiff bit the man at a Level 5 of 6. Bite Level 6 is death to the victim. The injuries were significant, the man needed several nights in the hospital, and has already had multiple surgeries to help him regain use of his hands. I can't speak to this dog, but I do concur with Dr. Yin in her piece linked above: Dogs do not tend to start biting at a Level 5. There is usually a history of Level 3 and 4 bites before a Level 5 bite occurs.

It should also be stated that the other dog in the incident was a German Shepherd. A dog who isn't frail by any means of the imagination, who suffered significant injuries from the Mastiff as well, including a bite wound through the lower jaw, and wounds to the tongue, neck and legs.

If this were any smaller dog, or any person other than an adult human male, this would have undoubtedly been a more tragic case. There is a lot more to this than "Somerville wants to euthanize a dog who bit a guy". Dogs can bite - and it's often a sign that there is significant stress. I work with these dogs all the time, or refer them to others who can help them more directly if it's a significant behavior issue (which this is). The only person who should be working with this dog is a certified behavior specialist. 

It reminds me of the McDonalds Coffee Case - a case that was assumed a frivolous lawsuit, and rallied the masses. However, what wasn't stated was the severity of the victim's injuries - her sweatpants were melted to her legs, she needed multiple skin grafts, and she suffered 3rd degree burns (in some cases through muscle and down to the bone) on thighs and genitalia over 16% of her body. If you want something to ruin your breakfast, here are some of the less graphic photos of the woman's injuries in McDonald's case.

There is always more than one side to a story. I'm holding out until I know more. What I will say is that I know that the city of Somerville wouldn't even consider euthanasia for most dogs for one bite (thankfully), but this goes far beyond one bite. This also isn't a case of a Bully Breed being unfairly judged. The victim was severely injured, attacked, and mauled, make no bones about it. His dog was attacked and also needed significant medical attention. Absolutely there is fear biting, and many dogs that are considered aggressive are fearful - but not all. I see fearful dogs labeled as aggressive daily in my line of work. Something about this is different.

If this dog is going to be saved at all, public sympathy shouldn't be the deciding factor for Rocco. A legitimately certified behavior specialist (Like Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Dr. Yin, or another experienced, board certified professional), someone who has the the proper training and experience for unusual, severe cases like this, needs to be the one to recommend one way or another if this is a dog that can, and should be, saved based on the nature of this attack.

Photo of the hand after one of many surgeries.
Posted with permission from the victim and his family. 

Photo of some of the injuries sustained in the dog attack.
Posted with permission of the victim and his family. 

I do sympathize with all the parties involved. We do love our dogs like family, but we also have to consider that this just wasn't a bite. There is a lot more to this than meets the eye.

As always, cases like this need to be considered on an individual basis. Blanket breed bans are not the answer, and euthanasia is not the answer for most single bites or incidents. People who are upset over "one bite" are absolutely right! If this was just one bite, than I wouldn't be writing this. However, taking a case and looking at all the surrounding facts, aggravating circumstances, and mitigating factors, including severity of the incident, is an important step to making sure we have a safe and dog-friendly environment for all members of our community.

My sympathies are with the owner of both dogs involved, and with both families, because this is a case that is heartbreaking, no matter which way you slice it.