Maulings most common to kids

Loud noises, pain, quick movements: They're all things that can make man's best friend attack.


More than 4.5 million people in this country are bitten every year by dogs, and 885,000 require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children are the most common victims, followed by the elderly and letter carriers.

"More often than not, you get kids coming in with puncture wounds," said Dr. Larry Mellick, who works in the pediatric emergency room at Medical College of Georgia Hospital, "but it's not uncommon to see one or two a year who come in with their lips torn wide open and major facial lacerations that require major plastic surgery repair."

Any stressful situation can cause a dog to attack instinctively, and playful children can often put dogs in a stressful situation, said Dr. T.L. Walker, a veterinarian at Highland Animal Hospital and the director of Georgia Veterinary Medical Association's District 10.

"Because the child is at eye-level with the dog, a lot of times the herding breed dogs think of them as another dog instead of as people," he said.

Michael Valadez vividly remembers the day his 10-year-old daughter was bitten in the face by the family's new beagle.

"The dog was sitting there and she had her arms around his neck, just snuggling and loving on him," he said. "She didn't recognize his growls of disapproval, and before we could think about it he bit her in the face."

Although the attack didn't do any permanent physical damage, the girl, now 27, still has a daily reminder several inches long on her face.

A 3-year-old stands out in Mellick's mind when he thinks about dog bites.

"She had basically been scalped," he said. "Her entire forehead was ripped back, and she was losing blood."

Doctors had to work quickly to reattach her scalp.

The child survived, but not everyone is as lucky.

A Modoc, S.C., girl died Jan. 22 after she was left outside to play with the family's new Akita. Kristen Dutton, 9, was discovered near the dog with severe damage to her neck.

Akitas are one of several breeds -- including Rottweilers, pit bulls, chows and German shepherds -- that are considered dangerous, Walker said, temperament of the individual dog should be a more important factor than breed when deciding whether to bring an animal into your home.

It's not necessarily that these dogs attack more, Walker said. Smaller dogs also will attack but are less likely to do serious damage and are less likely to be reported. Larger dogs have the power to cause more damage.

"You have to respect those teeth, and you have to respect the fact that they're animals," Mellick said. "There's no moral right or wrong."

Dog bites can exert 200-450 pounds of pressure per square inch, Mellick said. That amount of pressure is capable of causing nerve damage, tearing soft tissue and breaking bones.

For the past 20 years, the U.S. Postal Service has been spreading the word about the seriousness of dog bites.

In 2009, nearly 3,000 postal employees were attacked by dogs. Five Augusta postal workers were attacked from October 2009 through September 2010, according to spokeswoman Nancy Ross.

A lot of the issues go back to protection. Dogs often attack people who cross into their territory.

Statistics show that the majority of dog attacks occur in warmer weather in the afternoon.

Unneutered male dogs are the aggressors in more than 70 percent of reported cases, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association.

HOW to avoid dog attacks and bites

- Never approach an unfamiliar dog.

- Never run from or scream at a dog.

- Never disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.

- Never play aggressive games with dogs.

- Be "still like a tree" when an unfamiliar dog comes up to you.

- If a dog knocks you over, roll into a ball and stay still.

- Never allow a child to play with a dog unsupervised.

- Children should not look a dog straight in the eye.

- Don't touch a dog without letting it see and sniff you first.

- Keep your pet healthy. Pain can make dogs aggressive.

- Treat dogs like part of the family. Unsocialized pets are more aggressive.

- Spay/neuter your dog.

- Train it in obedience.

Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons