by Jason Smith
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
In honor of World Rabies Day, I recently presented a talk to my sons’ daycare group about dog bite prevention. The children in the class really enjoyed the presentation and did well in the practical exercises to demonstrate their understanding of the material.
We opened up by playing a short game of “Who am I?” I gave the children clues describing five different animals. The five animals they had to guess were the raccoon, the skunk, the fox, the coyote, and the bat. All of these animals can carry rabies. In fact, researchers have documented rabid bats in all 49 continental states (Hawaii is rabies-free).
Rabies is a serious illness that affects the brain. The only way a person can get rabies is from the bite of a rabid animal. While rabies is in decline in the United States—with 1 to 2 deaths per year on record, down from 100 deaths per year since the 1960s—it is still prevalent in developing countries. In such places, people without access to health care are most likely to become infected. According to the Global Alliance on Rabies Control, 60% of human deaths occur in people 15 years old and younger. Animals infected with rabies usually die within 7 days of becoming sick.
In the United States, in 2000-2004, a majority of the rabies cases occurred from cat bites. Because of strict vaccination laws and protocols, dogs are well-vaccinated in the United States, so they are a less likely source of rabies infection in humans.
However, in developing countries, dogs remain the most likely source.
After our brief game of “Who am I?”, I began telling the children about dog bite prevention. I gave them three different scenarios.
Meeting a Stranger with a Dog
If you ever find yourself walking down the street and you are approached by a person walking a dog, don’t assume you can just go up and pet the dog. Not only is it disrespectful to the dog and its owner it also invades the dog’s space and puts him on alert. The goal is to minimize the chance of biting so instead stop calmly and wait. Decide if the dog appears friendly. Then, ask the owner if you may pet the dog. If the owner says, “No,” be respectful and go about your day. If the owner says, “Yes,” make a closed fist and hold it near your body. Allow the dog to sniff your hand and when the dog is satisfied, then you may pet the dog. As you pet the dog, don’t make a downward swooping motion to pat the dog on the head (as this appears threatening), instead gently stroke the dog down the chest or along the back.
Meeting a Stray Dog
If you find yourself walking down a street and you encounter a stray dog, do whatever you can to stay away. If you cannot stay away from the dog, stop, stand still, and pretend to be a tree. Make closed fists to prevent the dog from biting your fingers. Stand slightly angled to the side with the dog in your peripheral vision (Do not make direct eye contact with a dog because the dog will interpret that as a challenge). Never turn your back to a strange dog and never attempt to run from a dog—you couldn’t outrun a dog if you tried. (Humans can run on average 27.3 miles per hour and dogs can top out at speeds above 45 miles per hour) Besides, when you run away from a dog, you activate the prey drive which makes the dog want to chase you.
Stand still and pretend to be a tree. Remain calm. If the dog attempts to sniff you, allow him to do so and wait patiently and calmly for the dog to lose interest.
Surviving a Stray Dog Attack
Before a dog bites you, offer it something to redirect its attention. You could use a stick, a toy, a treat, a backpack, or anything that you can offer to the dog to bite apart from you. Then, get out of there as soon as possible.
After a dog bites you, don’t try to retaliate. Retaliation leads to escalation and could result in serious injury or even death. Instead, shout for help (avoid screaming as this further draws out the prey drive) and curl up in a ball and pretend to be a rock. When pretending to be a rock, be sure to protect your neck with your hands and draw your knees up into your chest to protect your stomach.
If you’ve been bitten, make sure to go home and wash any wounds with warm water and soap for about 15 minutes. Then, make an appointment with your doctor to determine if treatment is necessary for rabies.
Share these tips with your children today.
Get involved in the cause to stop rabies. When you give:
- $8 per month will vaccinate a child
- $2 per month will vaccinate a dog
- $75 one time gift will provide life-saving therapy to critical rabies cases
- $10 per month to teach children to stay safe
You can donate online by visiting http://rabiesalliance.org/get-involved/donate
Download the American Veterinary Medical Association’s coloring book for fun coloring pages that teach about safety around dogs.