Missouri has proportionately highest rate of reported animal bites
COLUMBIA - Like many Americans, Chuck Hamblin keeps himself active by jogging around his hometown of Moberly.
“I lost over 150 pounds 8 years ago and I run to keep that weight off,” Hamblin said.
However, when Hamblin goes out for a jog, he said, he worries about his safety.
"I've been attacked by four dogs now, and charged several more times," Hamblin said. "It doesn't matter what time of day. I've been out in the morning, in the evening. Bit by four of them. The one time the dog really left a mark, it was the middle of the day. Probably noon and he bit me."
Hamblin said he has tried everything to prevent dogs from attacking him and he isn’t sure what makes him such an easy target.
"I've changed my cologne, I've bought pepper spray," Hamblin said. "I even decided to buy a taser for the sound, hoping it would scare the animals off. My friends joke that when we are all running together they aren't worried because they know I'll be most likely to get bit for whatever reason."
Hamblin is not alone. There were more than 11,000 reported cases of animal bites in Missouri in 2016. This includes bites from dogs, cats, bats and other wildlife. That's the number on insurance claims. The actual rate is thought to be much higher.
Hamblin said he did not go to the hospital for his injuries or report them for insurance claims.
A study by Amino.com shows Missourians suffer a disproportionately high rate of animal bites compared to any other state.
According to the CDC, children and the elderly are most likely to suffer from an animal bite.
Dr. Maren Bell Jones, veterinarian and dog trainer, said children are most at risk because they are often eye level with a pet.
“When kids get to be that creeping toddler stage, 1 to 3 years old, they aren't able to recognize the warning signals a dog is trying to give off," Jones said. "But, they're also right at face level for many dogs when they are that age. Especially if you have a really young child learning to stand up, they're grabbing the dog to pull themselves up. That can be really problematic."
Jones said children get bit more often because the dog does not have to work as hard to bite a child.
"If you're standing up and the dog wants to bite your face, it can jump up and do that but it's exerting a lot of effort to do so," Jones said. "Because the child is on the same level as the dog, it's much easier to react that way."
Jones teaches children about bite prevention. She said it is important for people to read the body language of the animal they are interacting with.
“What you should look for is the dog maintaining eye contact, looking away, or do I get the 'whale eye', seeing the whites of their eyes," Jones said. "You should also look if they're really stiff. Some of these things can be really subtle. If a dog has to growl or show teeth, that's a lot further along in the chain of communication the dog is trying to use with you. If you can learn to read that body language, you're much less likely to get bit."
Jones said people who are approaching a dog with an owner should always first sk the owner if they can pet the dog.
"I always recommend holding a fist and not fingers out, because if the dog does bite, they'll bite your hand instead of your fingers," Jones said.
If approached by an unfamiliar dog that appears aggressive, Jones said, children and adults alike should follow two steps.
“I tell people to act like a tree and then act like a rock,” Jones said. “If a dog approaches you, stand still with your hands balled up into fists. It’s important not to make eye contact with the dog. If it still attacks or knocks you down, that’s when you act like a rock. Curl up in a ball and protect your head and neck with your arms.”
The most important part, Jones said, is not to scream.
“This is really hard for children especially, but if you get attacked, you don’t want to scream because any loud noise could startle the dog and cause more damage,” Jones said.
Jones primarily teaches about how to prevent dog bites, but said adults and children often forget about cat bites being a problem.
In Boone County, there were 189 reported animal bites last year. Dog bites were most common, with 143 reported cases. Cat bites were second most common, with 43 reported cases.
Eric Stann, Community Relations Specialist at Boone County Health and Human Services, said these numbers are typical for the county.
"There are over 175,000 people in Boone County and we get, on average, about 180-200 cases of animal bites each year. That's way less than one percent of people getting bit," Stann said.
Jones said, though there are lower reported numbers, cat bites can often cause more problems than dog bites.
"People worry about getting attacked by some wild stray dog, but they're more likely to be bitten by a dog they live with or a stray cat," Jones said. "People don't always think about cats attacking them the same way they do dogs. Cats are more likely to transmit rabies."
In the past two years, there have been 8 confirmed cases of rabies in Boone County. Those confirmed cases have all been in bats. However, Jones said cats can easily get rabies from bats.
"The cat may see the sick bat on the ground and think it's a mouse and begin playing with it," Jones said. "That's how they get bit, and if it's a stray cat, we have no way of tracking those vaccine histories. If you get bit by a stray cat, you should almost definitely get that post-bite treatment, definitely get checked for rabies because our rate is so high here in Boone County."
Stann said if someone does get bitten, they should either call the health center or report the bite on Animal Control's website.
"The main way we find out about animal bites is through hospitals," Stann said. "They are mandated reporters when it comes to animal bite cases. But, people can still go ahead and report them directly to us."
Jones said it is important to remember animals are not always to blame when it comes to bites.
"You cannot expect your animal to be perfect 100-percent of the time," Jones said. "You have to educate yourself and your children as well. Train the dog not to attack, but also train yourself not to act in a threatening manner and to read the warning signs. It's not about the animal as much as it is about education."
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