A statistician sent me an e-mail question (which anyone can do from the home page of www.dogbitelaw.com). He asked whether dog bites are going up or down. Sounds like a simple question, right? It is not. If we are talking about non-fatal bites, nobody knows whether the number has gone up or down.
The insurance industry has been paying a nearly level number of dog bite claims per year, for at least the past 5 years. But that’s not dog bites, just liability claim payments.
I can tell you that the number of people seen in ERs for dog bites went up over the past few years, but not by much. However, there are fewer people with insurance, and those who don’t have it possess little choice other than to go to an ER. So the fact that more dog bite victims are showing up in ERs doesn’t actually prove that there are more dog bites.
All of the researchers will tell you that there never has been a comprehensive system of recording non-fatal dog bites. The numbers are not kept in one place. There is no requirement to report most bites. The breed of dog involved in each non-fatal bite is not determined in any reliable way.
We know that fatalities have doubled in the past 20 years. I explain that in detail at Dog Bite Statistics, which is the statistics page of my site, www.dogbitelaw.com. However, fatalities and dog bites are not the same thing.
We know that pit bulls and Rottweilers are the dogs that kill the majority of Americans who are killed by dogs. That is unquestionable. People who research the canine homicides are being very careful about identifying the breeds, because of the ongoing controversy over whether communities should allow anyone and everyone to own pit bulls. I talk personally to the relatives of many people who have been killed by pit bulls; I watch police videos of the pit bulls at the scene of a fatal attack; I look at photographs of the pit bulls and specifically note the visual characteristics that make them “pit bulls.” Other legitimate researchers take similar precautions when it comes to reporting the breed of dog that killed a human being. However, this in-depth information is simply not available in every non-fatal dog attack.
As a consequence of the lack of record-keeping about the non-fatal bites, there is a dearth of statistics about non-fatal dog attacks, and therefore it is difficult to rationally address the dog bite problem or, if you wish, the pit bull controversy. In Preventing Dog Bites, which sets forth my 10-point plan for preventing dog bites, I call for better record-keeping and more solid statistics. Until then, the debate about breed-specific laws will be fueled more by emotions than by solid facts. Personally I am completely uncomfortable with any laws that are based upon emotions and opinions, rather than facts.