A story in the Express-News, on March 31, 2009, by Eva Ruth Moravec, “7-month-old boy dies from dog attack,” told how an infant was literally torn to shreds as he was mauled, maimed and bitten to death by his grandmother's two pit bulls in her home.
When the grandmother attempted to intervene, these violent animals turned their aggression on her. The dogs were so vicious they had to be shot to death by the police so rescuers could reach the infant. Sadly, according to neighbors and family, these dangerous dogs had attacked previously.
As trauma surgeons, we feel obligated to bring to attention a life-threatening issue we have observed in San Antonio — that of dangerous canines posing a public health risk.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 885,000 people per year require medical attention for dog bites. In 2006, more than 31,000 Americans required reconstructive surgery as a result of dog attacks.
We're writing to bring this problem to the fore, along with information from Spain about an effective program to mitigate this issue. We cite two articles, both published in respected medical journals:
The first paper, “Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs” was published in the Annals of Surgery, April 2011. We looked at mortality and morbidity in patients hospitalized at our trauma center due to dog bite injuries.
We compared data for patients attacked by pit bull-type dogs to those attacked by other breeds and found patients attacked by pit bulls had more severe injuries, higher hospital charges and a higher risk of death.
The second article, published in Injury Prevention in 2010, is entitled “Decline in hospitalizations due to dog bite injuries in (Spain) 1997-2008. An effect of government regulation.”
It looked at hospitalizations caused by dog injuries before and after the enactment of stricter regulations on dog ownership and found a nearly 40 percent decline in hospitalizations after regulation.
The U.S. does not have standardized legislation regarding dangerous animals from state to state. Also, dog bite injuries aren't reportable, according to CDC guidance, so such data are captured inconsistently, probably underestimating the magnitude of this problem.
Texas has dubiously been a leader in the number of dog bite deaths over the past decade. Texas also has legislation that specifically prohibits municipalities from enacting breed-specific legislation regarding dog ownership, regardless of recognized epidemiology.
Regardless of this legislative restriction on counties and municipalities, many communities and subdivisions restrict breed ownership in their covenants and restrictions. And the federal government enforces prohibitions on certain dangerous dog breeds on multiple federal military installations.
We think a hearing is required on this public health problem, and that the Texas Legislature should take steps as Spain has done to deal with the problem — so no other family has to face the pain of losing a child to this senseless, violent and fully preventable cause of death.
John K. Bini and Stephen M. Cohn are San Antonio physicians.