Dog bites are common but can be prevented

Damien Chavous survived being bitten dozens of times by four dogs when he was 2 years old. The toddler spent three weeks recovering at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. He doesn't remember the incident.

Damien Chavous doesn't remember what happened to him July 10, 2009.

The 3-year-old's family will never forget.

Damien, then 2, wandered from his family's deck on Belair Road toward four mixed-breed dogs in a neighbor's yard.

Though a 4- foot fence separated the two yards, the toddler was still bitten dozens of times by the animals and spent three weeks recovering at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

"He didn't know to be scared," said Damien's great-grandfather, Bill Swint. "They would jump to the fence all the time when we were back there, but I never thought this would happen. We thank God he's all right, but he has scars that will be there for a while."

Most dog-bite cases in Richmond County are not as severe as Damien's, but they are frequent, said Sharon Broady, the Augusta Animal Services director. There were 226 incidents in the county last year and 116 so far this year, Broady said. Pit bull is the breed most often associated with biting incidents, with 61 involving these dogs last year and 35 this year. The incidents occur most often in the summer, and have more to do with the owner than with the breed, Broady said.

"People are out and about; a lot of kids are out playing with school out; so, we have more cases," she said. "To the pet owners, we just stress they keep their animals contained at home or on their leash."

Just as owners should be vigilant with their pets, parents also must watch their children to reduce instances of dog biting, said Beatrice Friedlander, the managing director of Animals and Society Institute, an animal research center in Ann Harbor, Mich.

"It's counterproductive to demonize particular breeds," Friedlander said. "The focus should be more on changing the behavior of the people who keep pets but don't take care of them."

The animals who attacked Damien were kept at the neighboring home by Shirley Barnes, who used the house as a rescue mission. Barnes was never charged in the incident.

"They needed to have supervision," said Maggie Swint, Damien's great-grandmother. "Any dog mistreated or not under control will attack."

Edward Jefferson, the Augusta Animal Services field supervisor, warns pet owners to have at least a 6-foot fence around their pets. The fence should also have wire at the bottom to prevent dogs from digging under the fence.

"It's all about being responsible for the animal," Jefferson said. "It's also about having caution with any animal. You just can never trust a pet that's not your own."

Swint said Damien still enjoys playing with dogs in spite of the attack. She said the family is much more careful with him when he is in the presence of a dog.

"He's still not afraid of them, but I think it's because he doesn't remember," she said. "He only had a 50/50 chance, so we thank the good Lord and the doctors at MCG that he's OK."

Dog-biting cases

A look at Richmond County's dog-biting cases this year and last:

  20092010
Unknown breed2414
Great Pyrenees01
Westie01
Airdale01
Shar pei01
Beagle03
Brittany spaniel01
Boston terrier31
Great Dane02
Husky32
Chow143
Pit bull6135
German shorthair10
Collie31
Akita63
Rottweiler72
American bulldog61
Jack Russell40
Labrador2617
German shepherd156
Terrier70
Bloodhound30
Golden retriever32
Chi chi73
Border collie21
Cocker spaniel80
Cattle dog50
Bull terrier10
English bulldog10
American spitz10
Pekingese11
Maltese20
Doberman pinscher10
Boxer24
Keeshond10
Poodle10
Rat terrier04
Shih tzu22
Schnauzer01
Daschund63
Total226116

Source: Augusta Animal Services