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.
On the same road another time, when Johnny was eating an open coconut, two juvenile monkeys charged him.
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!
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>
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>
3) This site helps you “read” a dog’s body language:<http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/what-my-dog-trying-tell-me/15185>
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.
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.
— 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,”
But some dogs are bored, neurotic, neglected, and/or nasty. Be aware — stay safe.