How to Avoid Dog (and perhaps other animal) Bites

For the first time in my life, I’ve been bitten by a dog!  I always thought that if I wasn’t afraid of an animal, if I didn’t make eye contact, and just walked away slowly, a barking dog or wild animal wouldn’t bite me (bears or sharks, I realized, might be another story).

This method has worked for me my whole life–even once in Waiehu, an isolated community on Maui, when a pack of dogs came charging up the road as I was walking by.  Also several years ago in Ubud, Bali, on Monkey Forest Road, I had an adult wild monkey (that weighed about 25 pounds and could have had rabies)  climb up my leg looking for food.  I stayed calm; it saw I was carrying a water bottle, not something edible, and climbed  back down.  I was wearing long pants and had been meditating and doing yoga every day, so I didn’t freak out, and the monkey went on its way.

Bali monkey - fearless

Bali monkey – fearless

On the same road another time, when Johnny was eating an open coconut, two juvenile monkeys charged him.

Johnny with his favorite Bali drink

Johnny with his favorite Bali drink

Quickly (and wisely), Johnny tossed the coconut; the monkeys went after it, and he was safe (and they were happy).

However, other people are not so wise.  Do NOT mess with wild animals!

This woman was luring the wild monkeys to climb up her body to get a banana she was holding above her head!

This woman was luring a wild monkey to climb up her body to get a banana she was holding above her head!

Had the monkey who climbed up my leg gotten a treat from someone like this woman?

But whether dogs or monkeys, sometimes, I’ve discovered, what has turned out okay before, doesn’t  work.

Last Saturday as a friend and I were walking on the road in a residential neighborhood in Makawao, Upcountry Maui, a yappy, bored little dog jumped through a hole in its fence and came charging.   With all the confidence of my past experience, I just ignored it and kept on walking slowly away. I’d already passed  her house when  the  dog came up behind me and bit my left calf –  leaving four puncture wounds!  Now, six days after the attack, I still can’t go in the ocean because of the wound, and I’ve had to go to the doctor.

After this experience and some research, I have revised my thinking about dog attacks.  These links give good  advice:

1) This site tells what to do to help prevent an attack and what actions to take if the aggressive behavior escalates:  <http://www.wikihow.com/Handle-a-Dog-Attack&gt;

2) This source repeats some of the information, but it’s helpful too. <http://voices.yahoo.com/dog-attacks-confronted-aggressive-8440355.html?cat=7&gt;

3) This site helps you “read”  a dog’s body language:<http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/what-my-dog-trying-tell-me/15185&gt;

And what did I do?  My first reaction to the bite–normally rather quiet me who never curses,  started screaming:  “What the xxxxx!   Whose xx## dog is this?  Get this ###XX dog off the street!   It just bit me!!”   I was pissed and more shocked than really hurt, and I’ve obviously not been doing enough meditation lately.

My bloodcurdling yells scared the dog back though the hole into its yard  and brought out the next-door neighbor and his young daughter.   I learned that this “jewel” of a dog, Ruby, had previously bitten the neighbor on the hand, Ruby’s owners knew about that attack, and the hole in the fence was not new.

I hold Ruby’s owners responsible.  That day, they were both at work and had left their two big dogs, who slept through the whole encounter on this hot afternoon, and Ruby, a terrier/chihuahua mix,  out in their yard.  Cesar Millan, “the dog whisperer”  and writer, says that leaving your dog in a fenced yard is for the dog like leaving it in a big cage.

Cesar Millan The Dog Whisperer http://www.cesarsway.com/dogbehavior/biting/When-Dogs-Attack

Cesar Millan – The Dog Whisperer and my favorite source for dog behavior <http://www.cesarsway.com/dogbehavior/biting/When-Dogs-Attack&gt;

Millan says that most problems with dogs can be solved by walking it for three hours a day!  (He charges a lot for that advice if he gives it to you personally).  However,  if you don’t have that much time to be the alpha person in your dog’s life, he says at least walk the dog a half hour a day (which would be good for you too) – and put the dog on a treadmill!    It’s likely that Ruby hasn’t been walked in a long time; the big dogs may be reacting to the neglect by sleeping.

Once I knew this wasn’t Ruby’s first unprovoked attack, I was very clear that I would report the incident–even though Ruby is a little dog and  the bite didn’t look like much at first.  It’s not as though I make my living as a leggy model, but the wound bled, became swollen and bruised; it hurt.  I’ll spare you the gooey visual.

I reported the attack to the Maui Humane Society right away.  Although they didn’t have an animal control officer in Makawao that afternoon, they sent an officer the next day to give citations for unleashed dog and dog bite.

The Maui Animal Humane Society website says, ” Maui County Code 6.04.045 outlines special regulations for dangerous dogs. Owners of a dog that has been deemed dangerous face a maximum penalty of $1000 and/or 30 days in jail should they fail to comply with the requirements of owning a dangerous dog.”  From: <http://www.mauihumanesociety.org/UserFiles/File/What_We_Do/Field_Operations/Citizens_Guide/Citizens_Guide.pdf>  But the owners can avoid the worst of the penalties if they keep Ruby contained and  get her training.

When the Maui Humane Society officer called for my report, I said I would of course go to court.  If the neighbor had done that when he was first bitten, it’s likely that I wouldn’t have been attacked.

Thankfully Hawaii is  rabies free.  However, we do have  nasty bacteria such as MRSA, (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to most antibiotics).  Puncture wounds are not good especially in hot climates.

A couple of people, including neighbors open for future Ruby attacks,  said to me – “Oh, it’s just a small dog.  Are you really going to report it?”  Yes!  It’s  the owners who should be feeling guilty about the attacks and making sure they don’t happen again.    Zero tolerance should be the policy here.  Besides, Ruby and her owners will need to get training–and everyone is likely to be happier and safer as a result.

If you have a dog, be a responsible owner.  Of the almost 5 million dog attacks in the U.S. each year (and many involve family pets), half of those injured are children.  So train your dog.  Train your children (and yourself) about what to do.  I know now that it’s not enough to be unafraid; dogs like Ruby will bite.

I’ve learned:

—  Be calm and don’t make eye contact is just the first step in reacting to an aggressive animal.  That’s usually enough to avoid a bite, but not always.

— Be ready to back away (I won’t turn my back on a barking dog again), command “No” (in the language of the land), throw something to distract it if possible, and if necessary, be ready to fight if attacked.

— And get medical treatment right away for a puncture wound.  A tetanus shot lasts 10 years, I’ve learned, unless you actually get a puncture wound, and then it’s good for only five years.

A dog can be “Man’s best friend,”

If a dog gets lots of exercise and attention, he is likely to be a happy dog.  Nalu and John after a hike through Iao

If a dog gets lots of exercise and attention, he is likely to be a happy dog.  Best friends Nalu and Johnny about to hike through Iao Valley.

But some dogs are bored, neurotic, neglected, and/or nasty. Be aware — stay safe.

Aloha, Renée

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “How to Avoid Dog (and perhaps other animal) Bites”

  1. Bruce and Anne Kitts says :

    We have a problem in our neighborhood with dog owners walking their pooches without a leash. What is particularly troubling is that the people who own a Pit Bull think that it is a good idea to walk one of the most dangerous breeds on the planet without a restraint. They come through our subdivision when the children and other dogs are out in their yards.

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Bruce and Anne: Dog owners being responsible is a big concern. You might want to check with your local humane society about what the leash laws are and what can be done to enforce them in your neighborhood.

      However, what I’ve learned from this recent experience is that I better be aware and learn what I can do to prevent future attacks.

      A friend recently described how she had had a sweet little dog for years; it had never shown any aggression. Then one day when my friend had been gardening for about an hour out in her front yard with her little dog nearby, her 90-year-old neighbor stopped by for a chat. The dog knew the neighbor and had been petted by her many times. As the elderly woman turned to go, the dog lunged out and bit the woman!

      I too have been to court on dog bite charges from my dog. It happened when Pualani who was inside our fenced-in yard saw a young boy who had often been in our house playing with our son. At the nearby corner, the boy had been knocked on his back by a dog that was standing over his face. Pua jumped our fence and attacked the dog. The owner of that dog who was standing right there reached between the two dogs and got a 1/4 inch cut on her little finger. We got her vet bills, her doctor bills, and fines for “unleashed dog” and “dog bites.” We contested the fines in court, and because there were witnesses, the fines were dropped, but not without a lot of trouble. The dog owner said her dog was just playing with the boy. The owner did get a cut, however. We thought Pua was a hero.

      So whether the dog is really aggressive, or if its action a one-time mistake, or if it is a hero, we probably all need to learn to read a dog’s body language and know what to do to protect ourselves from an attack.

      I won’t turn my back on a dog again. I’m not likely now to go pet a dog through an open car window. I will pay attention.

      What ideas do any of you have?

      Aloha, Renee

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