Animal bites costly and a health concern

MARSHALL COUNTY — National Dog Bite Prevention Week is May 18 -24. The goal is to bring awareness of the importance of pet owner responsibility as well as the how to properly interact with any dog. It is critically important, when it comes to reducing dog bit incidents, to be educated about canine behavior.

“The main bites we see here are from dog owners trying to break up dog fights,” explained Cindy Washburn Marshall County Humane Society animal control officer. “The big problem is when dog owners don’t keep their pets on their property. Dogs need to either be fenced in their yard, chained or on a leash.”

In a press release issued by State Farm Public Affairs, Indiana ranked number eight on the top ten dog bite claims in 2013. There were a total of 146 claims issued at a total of $2.8 million dollars. That breaks down to an average of almost $24,000 each claim.

“In Marshall County we had 81 animal bites reported,” stated Public Health Nurse Susan Lechlitner of the Marshall County Health Department (MCHD). “Those include cat, dog, bat, rat and squirrel bites. Rats and squirrels are not carriers of rabies however the others are.”

Most of the reports to the health department come from the Marshall County Humane Society (MCHS), the sheriff’s department or the medical facilities. Lechlitner fills out a report form for each incident regardless of severity.

According to Sheriff Tom Chamberlin, “We respond to calls but don’t get involved much in the case unless it is a criminal matter or the owner in non-compliant with confining the animal.”

A criminal matter is when the dog’s behavior is habitual (a repeat offender) or there are multiple attack or multiple dogs.
“We have had some severe cases in the past where the dog’s owner has had to make the difficult decision to put the animal down,” Chamberlin said.
The officers are trained not use force unless absolutely necessary.

“Spring is the season for dog bites,” stated Washburn. “Male dogs that sense a female in heat will do whatever they can to reach that female. That’s where a lot of problems starts. We are always very cautious when approaching a male dog and trying to contain him.”

For the MCHS and the MCHD the first thing they do is gather all the facts about the incident. An owned dog is required to be contained for 10 days to monitor the dog’s behavior to make sure it does not have rabies. If the dog is not current on its shots, they must be updated. Rabies shots are required and must be updated yearly.

The health department will follow up with medical personal to ensure that the victim received proper treatment. “The emergency room doctor will often recommend the patient follow up with their family doctor to monitor for signs of infection,” explained Lechlitner. “In some cases the patient needs stitches, antibiotics or an updated tetanus shot.”

If the dog is a stray then MCHS will contain the dog for the 10 days. A dog that shows signs of rabies must start rabies shot immediately. Washburn acknowledged that she had not seen this in her time as animal control officer.

The MCHS follows up to ensure that the dog is being properly contained. An owner that fails to follow the procedure will have to pay for the dog to be boarded at a veterinary office. A dog that is current on shots and shows no signs of aggression is usually allowed to remain with the owner. However, this is a case by case basis and many dog owners choose to euthanize a dog that has attacked for unprovoked reasons.

“It is really important for adults to teach children how to properly behave around dogs. No one should approach a dog they do not know. People should ask owners before reaching to pet a dog,” explained Washburn. “If two or more dogs are fighting people should never try to get involved to break it up. Often they will get bit, not out of aggression, but mostly by accident.”

“We saw an increase in dog bite reporting after a 2006 incident,” said Chamberlin. “A ten year old girl from Bourbon contracted rabies after being bit by a bat. Unfortunately the girl passed away.”

Both Washburn and Lechlitner acknowledged seeing an incline in animal bites reported after that incident as well.

Dogs and bats aren’t the only ones to cause health problems after a bite or scratch. “Cat bites and scratches are more prone to infection,” added Lechlitner.

“A lot of children and adults see a cute feral cat or kitten and try to pick it up,” Washburn explained. “Then the cat reacts poorly resulting in an injury to the person from bites and scratches.”

Cats can not only carry rabies but also Bartonella henselae commonly called cat scratch disease/ fever. In most cases the persons immune system is able to fight off the infection but not always. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and inflammation and soreness of the lymph nodes. Individuals with these symptoms should seek medical treatment.

“The best thing for anyone to do that has been bitten or scratched by an animal is to report the incident to either the MCHD or MCHS and have it checked out by a doctor especially if the animal is a stray or its vaccination status is unknown,” said Washburn.

Educational information about preventing dog bites to children can be found through the nonprofit organization Prevent the Bite. More information can be found at www.preventthebite.com. The MCHS can be reached at 574-936-8300. The MCHD can be reached at 574-935-8565.

This story was published in the Monday, May 19 edition of the Pilot News. Subscribers got the news first. Call 574-936-3101 to subscribe to either a print or e-edition.