Mike Westbrook, 15, was playing basketball with a few friends in his Pepperidge neighborhood in South Augusta when a small brown Boston terrier approached. The dog, which was being walked on a leash by its owner, apparently didn't care too much for Mike.
"It started to growl at me," Mike said, "so I hit him."
The terrier responded by biting Mike in the upper thigh.
"I didn't have to go to the hospital or anything," Mike says, "but I think I'll leave the dog alone next time."
Children can bring on an attack by a dog through no fault of their own. Many are never taught how to react when approached by an unfamiliar animal. The result can be a serious injury, maybe even death.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, as many as a million people each year require medical attention because of dog bites. An estimated 12 people a year die as a result of an attack.
Sixty percent of the victims are children. It's the No. 1 health problem of children, "outnumbering measles and mumps combined," the association claims.
Jim Larmer, Director of Animal Control in Augusta, says his office gets at least three dog bite cases a week. And summertime usually brings an increase because children are out of school.
The Richmond County Department of Health reported that 480 people were attacked by an animal, mainly a dog or cat, in 1997. In the first six months of 1998, there were 178 attacks.
The most common reason a dog bites someone is because it has been provoked.
"People will play with the animal too tough," Mr. Larmer said. The animal may respond by becoming more aggressive.
A second reason an animal may attack is out of fear, particularly when it is injured and someone tries to touch it. "Because it's scared, the animal will bite in defense," Mr. Larmer said.
If you approach a dog you are unfamiliar with, Mr. Larmer suggests you stand your ground. Don't look directly into the dog's eyes, but don't let him know you're afraid. Dogs can smell fear, Mr. Larmer says.
Instead, continue to walk. Do it slowly and don't try to run. A dog loves a good chase and running will prompt the animal to pursue you.
Also, try to keep something between you and the dog. This is a good strategy for children walking home from school. They should keep their books or backpack between themselves and the canine. If the dog does attack, it can be warded off by the object. When riding a bike, children should get off and use it as a safeguard.In the extreme case that a dog does attack, Mr. Larmer urges falling to the ground and rolling up like a ball.
"Guard your head and neck," Mr. Larmer said. "Stay still for your own safety; this usually works for small children." He said kids tend to panic which agitates the dog even more.
Dog owners who don't think their beloved pet would bite someone are probably wrong.
"Any dog can attack under the right circumstances," Mr. Larmer said.
Through proper care and training, dog owners can reduce the chances that their dog might bite someone.
"People usually get dogs when they're young," says Alison Tatum, veterinarian assistant at Village Animal Clinic. "That's good because the owner can socialize the dog. When you get an adult dog, you have no idea how the dog will react. It may like the owner but no one else."
The more contact a dog has with people and other canines the less likely it will be agitated by someone.
"Dogs kept inside the house never see another human being and are usually more aggressive," Mrs. Tatum says. If the dog still has problems after socialization it is a good idea to have it trained.
When choosing a dog, the buyer should keep in mind that some breeds may be more aggressive than others.
Dogs like Rottweilers can have a low temper tolerance and some people inbreed them which makes matters worse, Mrs. Tatum says. Dalmations are also a bad choice, Mrs. Tatum said. They are very aggressive, have lots energy and are very high strung.
Dobermans, however, are not as vicious as some people may think.
"They may look mean, but they are loyal and very intelligent," Mrs. Tatum said. "I have owned a few and they are some of the best dogs I've had."
Here are some tips on avoiding and treating animal bites from the American Academy of Family Physicians:
Call your doctor in any of these situations:
Call your doctor in any of these situations: You have a cat bite. Cate bites are very prone to infection. you don't need to call your doctor for a scratch, unless you think the wound is infected.