The Daily Gamecock

Column: Dog bites should be addressed before, not after, they occur

Beware of Dog graphic.
Beware of Dog graphic.

I have never been nervous around dogs. In fact, I adore dogs and plan to have several throughout my life. I believe firmly in the adage, “dog is man’s best friend,” and I admit to missing my dogs more than my parents when I left for college.

About three weeks ago, this perspective shattered when I was bitten by a dog.

Late one morning, I went on a run near my house. I was about half a mile down the road when barks rang out, but there are plenty of dogs along the road, so I continued without hesitation. A dog ran across a nearby yard and into the street towards me. In seconds, it was much too close, lunging, and I saw his jaw clamp down on my lower leg.

I screamed, and the dog let go and ran back to his front porch.

In that moment, I became a victim of one of the approximate 4.5 million dog bites that will happen in the United States this year.

Panicky sobs set in, and I forced myself to breathe slowly and inspect my bleeding leg. Eventually I walked back past the yard, where the dog still stood watching.

I called my mother when I got home. My brother drove me to the emergency room. A friendly nurse made small talk while he cleaned and bandaged my injury.

Since then, I have been conflicted about what I think should happen to dogs that bite. This depends on whether the dog is repeatedly aggressive, whom it attacked and where the attack occurred. There is no fail-safe solution.

The focus should be on reducing the risk of dog bites from the start, and this begins with stronger enforcement of dog containment laws that are already in place.

The South Carolina Code of Laws states that owners cannot allow dogs to run at large off property that they own or control. In Spartanburg County, where my bite occurred, pets must be kept under restraint and cannot run at large. “At large”  is defined as off the property of the owner or keeper and not under restraint, meaning controlled by a chain, leash or other device.

Particularly in rural areas, these laws are not strictly enforced. My family allows one of our dogs to run unleashed on our property when we go outside, and, often, we don’t know exactly where he is. I often run along the roads for several miles away from my house, and many of the dogs I pass appear to have minimal containment.

While most dogs are not aggressive without provocation, it is difficult to predict what can set off a dog. Identifying aggressive dogs is not sufficient to make us safe from dog bites. Steps must be taken to make sure that safety laws are being enforced.

Over 850,000 of the yearly dog bites in the United States are serious enough to require medical attention. More than 350,000 victims go to the emergency room for dog bites each year.

Most bites are not life-threatening, but even bites that have no permanent physical consequences can leave invisible scars. I sometimes get nervous when I hear dogs barking. I bought a gym membership and drive a few miles up the road to run instead of just going out the front door.

Dog containment laws cannot apply only to dogs that have proven to be aggressive. These laws should prevent attacks before they happen, because no one should be afraid of an animal that is supposed to be safe and comforting.