Despite pit bull mauling, dog attacks uncommon

January 3, 2012

JENNIFER BRANDEL AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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(Flickr/Aaron Wickenden)
The data Cook County collects on dog bites includes the injuries inflicted on other animals.

A Chicago jogger mauled by two pit bulls Monday morning remains in critical condition at Stroger Hospital as of Wednesday morning, but is expected to live according to doctors. Officials say this type violent dog attack on humans is uncommon in Cook County.

Cook County Animal and Rabies Control reports in 2010, there were 3,206 dog bites reported in the entire county. That figure includes everything from a scratch to a severe injury - and accounts for bites to humans and to other animals.

Dr. Donna Alexander works for the county and estimates about 90 percent of dog bites do get reported thanks to regulations that require police and hospitals report animal attacks. As for what types of dogs are the most likely to attack, Alexander said, "Because almost every dog is a mixed breed dog, I would say mixed breed."

Still the pit bull has the worst reputation as being a dangerous breed. Dr. Robyn Barbiers is the president of the Anti-Cruelty Society - an organization that finds homes for stray animals.

She said of the dogs that come to her site, about 30 percent are pit bulls, but that pits are the majority breed at some other shelters around the city.

Cherie Travis is the Executive Director at Animal Care and Control. She estimated about 60-70 percent of the dogs they bring in are pit bull type dogs. She said pits are people-oriented dogs and want to please their owners, but unfortunately some people have exploited that character trait to train the dogs to attack or fight.

Travis said she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about the jogger who remains in critical condition after the pit bull attack. But she said laws and ordinances have done a fairly good job bringing down incidents as well as making owners accountable, and that attacks of this severity are "exceedingly rare." She said the hardest thing remains enforcing current laws and hopes this incident does not result in a knee-jerk reaction to ban certain breeds.

Both Dr. Barbiers and Dr. Alexander said dog bites are not the result of bad dogs as much as they are the result of irresponsible owners. They urged owners to ensure dogs are leashed whenever outside and for owners to be sure dog enclosures are properly reinforced. Travis added if residents see a stray dog, to call 311 and alert Animal Care and Control to its location - and if possible to get the dog in an enclosed space where one of the city's two dozen animal control officers can safely capture it.

And a warning for owners who have dogs that could bite and inflict damage: Chicago lawyer Barry Doyle said dog bite victims he's represented in court have received anywhere from $26,000 - $100,000.  Doyle cautioned owners of large dogs to check their homeowners insurance, as many some breeds, including pit bulls, may not be included in coverage.

Chicago Police have cited the owner of the two pit bull terriers that mauled a jogger along Chicago's lakefront. Jimmie Johnson of Chicago faces possible fines of more than $2,000 for failing to restrain the dogs and failing to license them. City code allows fines of $1,000 if failing to restrain a dog leads to severe injuries. Police spokesman Robert Perez says the 57-year-old dog owner received four citations in total, two for each dog.

The jogger, 62-year-old Joseph Finley of Chicago, remained in critical condition at Stroger Hospital Wednesday. Police shot and killed the dogs Monday morning following the attack on Finley. He was running on a path in Rainbow Beach Park on the city's far South Side when the dogs attacked around 6 a.m.

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