You are hereAre There Significant Safety Issues Around Dogs in the GGNRA?

Are There Significant Safety Issues Around Dogs in the GGNRA?


Safety of the Dogs Themselves

During the course of Negotiated Rulemaking, claims have been made that “literally hundreds of off-leash dogs have been lost, injured, or killed while roaming the [GGNRA] off-leash.” (Emergency Petition to the GGNRA, p.20) These claims have been used to justify restricting off-leash access – it is necessary for the protection of the dogs. Is this accurate?

Analysis of incident reports from 2001 to 2006 provided by the GGNRA yield the following information:

 

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

6 year totals

Dogs Lost

3

4

2

6

1

2

18

People Lost

57

57

68

65

63

63

373

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs Injured

2

1

0

1

1

0

5

People Injured: Motor Vehicle

31

26

28

20

24

16

145

People Injured: Bicycle

19

31

19

24

19

38

150

People Injured: Other

285

231

262

208

171

175

1332

People Injured: TOTAL

335

288

309

252

214

229

1627

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Fatalities

0

1

0

0

0

1

2

People Fatalities

11

19

14

19

18

21

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs Rescued

8

9

5

8

3

4

37

People Rescued

50

71

81

46

94

90

432

 

            The data in the incident reports indicate that there were a total of 62 incidents involving dogs over the course of the six years from 2001 to 2006. The claim of “hundreds” of incidents involving dogs in the GGNRA is, quite simply, false. When you consider that tens of thousands of dogs visit the GGNRA each day, the total number of incidents reported is miniscule (62 incidents out of nearly 22 million dog visits over the six years). The GGNRA is not an unsafe place for off-leash dogs.

            Interestingly, comparing the numbers in the table between dogs and people indicates that the GGNRA is significantly more unsafe for people than for dogs.

            Claims have also been made that “the Bay Area’s top animal behavior specialists have conducted extensive studies and shown that allowing dogs to roam off-leash is the cause of leash aggression, not the cure for it.” (unpublished Letter to the Editor of the SF Chronicle, posted to a blog 10/17/07) This sounds impressive, but it too is false.

            At the February 8, 2007 meeting of the San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission, Jean Donaldson, the founder and director of the SF/SPCA Dog Training Academy, testified on this issue. Donaldson has over 30 years experience in dog behavior and training, and is the author of several books, including The Culture Clash, which was voted the Best Behavior Book of 1997 from the Dog Writers Association of America and is the #1 book recommendation for dog owners from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. At the Commission meeting, Donaldson said (a complete transcript of her statement is at the end of this issue summary):

 

There is not only no evidence that allowing dogs off-leash for play opportunities increases the incidence of aggression, to a person every reputable expert in the field of dog behavior in the United States is of the opinion that it is likely that off-leash access decreasesthe likelihood of aggression.

There is no research demonstrating that dog parks or off-leash play contributes to any kind of aggression, including dog-dog aggression. It was brought to my attention a couple of months ago, that claims were being made that such research existed. And so I did an exhaustive literature search as well as consulting at length numerous colleagues in dog behavior in the United States. All were amazed at the suggestion in view of no such research.

Trish King, my counterpart at the Marin Humane Society, has been publicly quoted several times as having authored research concluding off-leash play contributes to aggression. I spoke to her at length about this and we corresponded in the last couple of weeks. She has notperformed or published such research. She is furthermore, and I quote, “mortified”, unquote, that anyone would suggest or imply that. She believes off-leash access, if anything, prevents aggression.

Priscilla Feral, the president of Friends of Animals, oftenhas also been quoted as opposing off-leash access. I spoke to her this past Monday regarding Friends of Animals’ position, and she was adamant that statements suggesting that Friends of Animals oppose off-leash access are false.

The same holds true for Kathy Santo, a nationally recognized colleague of mine. I also spoke to her this week. She followed up the conversation with me with an email, which I will now quote: “Hi Jean. I wanted to email you and clarify my stance on dogs engaging in off-leash play. I strongly believe that it is good, or more accurately necessary for healthy dogs to play off-leash in safe areas while supervised by their owners. An exercised, socialized dog is a happy and well-adjusted dog.”

 

 

 

Clearly, there is no compelling reason concerning the safety of dogs themselves to restrict off-leash recreation in the GGNRA.

 

 

 

 

 

Safety of Other Park Visitors

 

A) Dog Incidents in the GGNRA

            Those opposed to dogs in the GGNRA have often painted a picture of thousands of dogs running amok terrorizing other park visitors. But is this common or even true?

            An analysis of incident reports provided by the GGNRA for the years 2001 to 2006 do not support these claims:

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

Off-Leash Incidents

270

244

494

559

179

111

Off-Leash Citations

188

162

372

350

61

15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closed Area Incidents

50

31

63

77

80

79

Closed Area Citations

87

70

88

38

40

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Bite Incidents

26

26

23

29

21

24

Dog Bite Citations

1

0

0

0

4

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Dog Incidents

3

5

2

6

0

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Litter Citations

3

3

5

4

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Pet Incidents

406

403

649

748

363

296

Total Pet Citations

363

311

520

428

122

42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Incidents

14,578

12,160

12,389

14,259

13,704

13,179

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Incidents as % of

Total Incidents

2.79%

3.31%

5.24%

5.25%

2.65%

2.25%

           

            It is clear from this table that the majority of incidents and citations involving dogs in the GGNRA are for violations of leash laws, not for dog bites or problems with other park users.Compare the number of dog incidents and citations to the total number reported during the same periods. In every year for which the reports were provided, dog incidents/citations constituted less than 5.5% (and frequently less than 3%) of the total. Dogs do not represent a major safety problem for other park visitors that would require restrictions on off-leash recreation to correct.

            Comments demanding absolute safety where dogs are concerned have been made. During the time the NR Committee has been meeting, a man shot and killed a hang glider at Fort Funston, and wounded another. During NR, two women were charged with luring a man to Fort Funston with the promise of sex, only to rob and kill the man once in the park. No dog has ever killed a person in the GGNRA. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the human visitors. What is the real threat?

            It should also be noted that many people, especially women and seniors, do not feel safe hiking alone in the GGNRA WITHOUT a dog. The GGNRA is adjacent to a dense urban area. Unfortunately, that means it is also adjacent to all the ills that beset that urban society. A woman was raped and killed about two years ago while walking/running in an East Bay park during her lunch hour. Many women and seniors do not feel safe walking in the GGNRA, especially its more remote areas, because people with bad intent can so easily access the park. These same women and seniors do feel safe walking in those same areas if they have either their own or other people’s off-leash dogs around them. If these areas are closed to off-leash recreation, they will be effectively closed to many women and seniors who will not walk in them alone.

            Of course, dogs should never bother other park visitors. Proper Park Petiquette is to not let your dog approach people you do not know. Dogs should not jump on people, or take food away from them. Dog training and public education can address these problems. It is not necessary to restrict off-leash recreation to address these issues.

            Note also that there has not been a single case of dog-feces borne illness in a human reported to the San Francisco Department of Public Health in over 50 years.

 

B) Dog Bites

            Concerns about dog bites are often specifically cited as a justification for restricting off-leash access in the GGNRA. Of course, a single dog bite is one bite too many. But are concerns about bites significant enough to justify restricting off-leash recreation in the GGNRA?

There is no public safety crisis involving dogs in San Francisco. According to SF Animal Care and Control, about one-quarter to one-third of all households in San Francisco have at least one dog. Therefore, ACC estimates the total number of dogs in the City to be about 120,000 to 140,000.

The total number of dog bites reported in San Francisco in 2004 was 384, down 20% from the number in 2003 (SFPD testimony before SF Police Commission, and private communication; this is the last year for which I have information). But – and this is a big “but” – San Francisco does not separate incidents where dogs bite other dogs from incidents where dogs bite people when it reports the total number of dog bites. Since the vast majority of dog bites involve one dog biting another, the number of people bitten by dogs is actually significantly lower than the total number suggests.

Considering the number of dogs in San Francisco, the number of bites is extremely small. Do the math: 120,000 dogs times 365 days a year equals the potential for a minimum of 44 million bites each year. The actual number is 384 (a significant number of which are dog-dog, not dog-people bites).

Reports of serious dog bites and fatal dog attacks make the news precisely because they are unusual and rare.

In one of the most comprehensive analyses of injuries due to dog bites, Canadian researchers searched a national database of all reports of injuries throughout Canada in 1996 (Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, or CHIRPP; the study can be found at:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/injury-bles/chirpp/injrep-rapbles/dogbit_e.html). Dog bites represented 1% of all injuries in the CHIRPP database.

            The CHIRPP analysis found that children between 2 and 14 years of age sustained over 70% of all bites. Most of the dogs involved in bite incidents (65.2%) were either part of the family, part of the extended family, or part of a friend or neighbor’s family. Only 12.2% were stray or unfamiliar dogs. The majority of the dog bites (64.5%) happened in someone’s home (either the victim’s or another person’s home).

Only 3.1% of dog bites (38 total) occurred in a public park. In other words, bites occurring in locations similar to the GGNRA accounted for a miniscule 0.02% (2/100th of one percent) of the total number of 188,717 injuries in the database that year.

A majority (50.3%) of victims had been interacting with the dog before the bite: 19.3% were petting, handling, feeding, or walking with the dog; 17.5% were playing with the dog; 7.8% had hurt or provoked the dog; and 5.7% were disciplining the dog.

The Canadian results are similar to those reported in the US. The Centers for Disease Control’s MMWR weekly from July 4, 2003 says that 42% of all dog bites occurred among children under 14 years of age, and cites research that indicated that in children under 18 years old, 80% of bites were inflicted by the family’s (30%) or a neighbor’s (50%) dog. Children are primarily bitten by dogs they know, not unfamiliar or stray dogs that run up to them in a park.

In testimony before the San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission on February 8, 2007, Jean Donaldson, the founder and director of the SF/SPCA Dog Training Academy said:

 

Off-leash play has not proven to be a factor in dog bites. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the majority of bites take place on the guardians’ property. The remaining incidents involve dogs that are either restrained, i.e., leashed, or dogs that are “at large”, [that is,] unsupervised dogs that have escaped confinement.

Consider for example, the three highest profile serious dog attacks in the history of San Francisco. Those are Diane Whipple in 2001, Sean Jones in 2001, and Nicholas Faibish in 2005. In the first, the dogs were on-leash. In the second, the dogs had escaped confinement in the backyard and were at large. And in the third, the dog was confined in the guardian’s home. I would add that in all these instances, the dogs were un-neutered.

Interestingly, it could very well be that the safest dogs are those that attendoff-leash dog parks. Shyan and cohorts published a research paper in 2003 in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science which looked at the prevalence of interdog aggression in dog parks. Dog-dog problems turned out to be minimal and of a non-serious nature. While the paper did not consider the question of dog-to-human aggression, the obvious interpretation of this low incidence of aggression was interesting and I think very relevant. They suggested that self-selection operates strongly, i.e., people who take their time to get into their car or walk to a designated off-leash area to exercise their dog tend to not to be the type who are derelict in other areas of dog guardianship, such as training, socialization or appropriate containment.

 

As is clear from all of this, the chance of being bitten in a park by a strange dog that you have not interacted with is pretty slim. 

            Consider where dog bites rank in the context of accidental injuries for people in general. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s WISQAR (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, accessible at: http://www.cdc.gpv/ncipc/wisqars; this site tracks injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms) site, the top 15 causes of accidental injury in the United States in 2006 were:

 

Rank

Cause of Unintentional Injury

Number of Injuries

% of Total Injuries

1

Fall

7,934,840

28.7

2

Struck by/against object (not vehicle or machinery)

4,663,517

16.9

3

Overexertion

3,474,597

12.6

4

Occupant in Motor Vehicles

2,723,465

9.8

5

Cut/Pierce/Stab

2,215,211

8.0

6

Other Bites/Stings (not dogs)

1,095,521

4.0

7

Other

922,208

3.3

8

Poisoning

703,702

2.5

9

Unknown/Unspecified

652,130

2.4

10

Other Transport (includes horseback riding, ski lifts, golf carts, etc)

635,018

2.3

11

Foreign Body

621,433

2.2

12

Pedal Cyclist

465,395

1.7

13

Fire/Burn

417,540

1.5

14

Dog Bite

306,273

1.1

15

Machinery

278,676

1.0

 

 

            Dog bites represent 1.1% of all accidental injuries. At least four of the injuries on the list are not only more common than dog bites, but could easily happen to visitors in the GGNRA – fall, overexertion, motor vehicles, and cyclist. If off-leash access is restricted in the GGNRA to “protect” the public, then walking, hiking, all motor vehicles, hang gliding, rock climbing, and bicycling should similarly be banned. These activities combined account for 52.8% of all accidental injuries. Once again, the low frequency of dog bites, especially when compared to other more common causes of injury, indicates that bites cannot be used to justify restricting off-leash access.

Fatalities from dog bites are even more rare. In 2001, the American Veterinary Medical Association published a report from its Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions titled: “A community approach to dog bite prevention,” (JAVMA, Vol. 218, No. 11, June 1, 2001, p. 1733). The report states that nationally, there are about 53 million dogs (this was in 2001; there are more dogs now), and an estimated 4.5 million dog bites each year, of which about 20% (800,000) require medical attention. Note that these statistics do not mean that 10% of all dogs bite, since they don’t account for repeat offenders. Note also that these numbers include medical treatment obtained at sites other than emergency rooms, which accounts for the difference in numbers between the WISQAR site and the JAVMA article.

NOTE: The JAVMA report states: “although most dog bites occur on the property where the dog lives, unrestrained or free roaming dogs do pose a substantial threat to the public.” In this context, “unrestrained or free roaming dogs” does not mean off-leash dogs supervised by a person. “Unrestrained or free roaming dogs” means straydogs that have no person supervising them.

            Out of the millions of bites, about 10-20 are fatal each year, roughly 0.0003% (three-ten-thousandth of one percent) of the total number of bites. That number has remained nearly constant for decades, despite significant increases in both the numbers of people and the numbers of dogs. About 70% of those killed by dogs each year are children under the age of 12 (a total of 7 to 14 deaths a year). Of course, even one bite is one too many, and any fatal dog attack is devastating for families and friends of the victims.

But what is the context for these numbers? Do dog bites pose a significant risk of death to children? To get a sense of the context, compare the number of children killed by dogs with the number of children who died from other causes. Sadly, over 1000 - 2000 children die each year as a result of abuse, most at the hands of their parents or primary caregivers. (“Primary Prevention of Child Abuse”, Lesa Bethea, American Family Physician, March 15, 1999, vol 59, no 6) 

The SAFE KIDS USA Campaign (formerly the National SAFE KIDS Campaign) is dedicated to preventing accidental deaths of children. Their website (http://www.safekids.org) provides information on the causes of unintentional death and injury for children under the age of 14. Dog bites are not even mentioned.

According to the SAFE KIDS website, in the year 2002, some of the causes of accidental death in children were:

·       1,638 from motor vehicle crashes

·       838 from drowning

·       599 from pedestrian injuries

·       520 from fire and burn-related injuries

·       130 from bicycle-related crashes

·       95 from falls

·       100 from poisonings

·       60 from firearm-related injuries

·       147 from playground equipment-related injuries (between 1990 and 2001)

·       89 from inline skating injuries (since 1992)

·       120 from ATV-related injuries (in 2005)

·       20 from school bus-related injuries (in 2003)

 (Source: http://www.usa.safekids.org/tier3_cd_2c.cfm?content_item_id=19010&folder...)

            When the numbers above are compared to the number of children killed by dogs, it is clear that dogs do not pose any significant risk to children.

 

Putting this all together, there is no compelling reason associated with dog bites to restrict off-leash recreation in the GGNRA. 

Transcript: Comments to SF Animal Control and Welfare Commission

By Jean Donaldson, SF/SPCA

2/8/07

 

Donaldson: Good evening. I’m Jean Donaldson. I’m from the San Francisco SPCA. I’m hear to talk about a rather narrow aspect of this issue which is the issue of safety, i.e., the contention that unrestrained dogs pose any kind of threat to the citizens of San Francisco or to each other, or that being allowed off-leash to play contributes to the likelihood of aggression of any kind.

 

There is not only no evidence that allowing dogs off-leash for play opportunities increases the incidence of aggression, to a person every reputable expert in the field of dog behavior in the United States is of the opinion that it is likely that off-leash access decreasesthe likelihood of aggression.

 

Off-leash play has not proven to be a factor in dog bites. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the majority of bites take place on the guardians’ property. The remaining incidents involve dogs that are either restrained, i.e., leashed, or dogs that are “at large”, [that is,] unsupervised dogs that have escaped confinement.

 

Consider for example, the three highest profile serious dog attacks in the history of San Francisco. Those are Diane Whipple in 2001, Sean Jones in 2001, and Nicholas Faibish in 2005. In the first, the dogs were on-leash. In the second, the dogs had escaped confinement in the backyard and were at large. And in the third, the dog was confined in the guardian’s home. I would add that in all these instances, the dogs were un-neutered.

 

There is no research demonstrating that dog parks or off-leash play contributes to any kind of aggression, including dog-dog aggression. It was brought to my attention a couple of months ago, that claims were being made that such research existed. And so I did an exhaustive literature search as well as consulting at length numerous colleagues in dog behavior in the United States. All were amazed at the suggestion in view of no such research.

 

Interestingly, it could very well be that the safest dogs are those that attendoff-leash dog parks. Shyan and cohorts published a research paper in 2003 in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science which looked at the prevalence of interdog aggression in dog parks. Dog-dog problems turned out to be minimal and of a non-serious nature. While the paper did not consider the question of dog-to-human aggression, the obvious interpretation of this low incidence of aggression was interesting and I think very relevant. They suggested that self-selection operates strongly, i.e., people who take their time to get into their car or walk to a designated off-leash area to exercise their dog tend to not to be the type who are derelict in other areas of dog guardianship, such as training, socialization or appropriate containment.

 

Trish King, my counterpart at the Marin Humane Society, has been publicly quoted several times as having authored research concluding off-leash play contributes to aggression. I spoke to her at length about this and we corresponded in the last couple of weeks. She has notperformed or published such research. She is furthermore, and I quote, “mortified”, unquote, that anyone would suggest or imply that. She believes off-leash access, if anything, prevents aggression.

 

Priscilla Feral, the president of Friends of Animals, oftenhas also been quoted as opposing off-leash access. I spoke to her this past Monday regarding Friends of Animals’ position, and she was adamant that statements suggesting that Friends of Animals oppose off-leash access are false.

 

The same holds true for Kathy Santo, a nationally recognized colleague of mine. I also spoke to her this week. She followed up the conversation with me with an email, which I will now quote: “Hi Jean. I wanted to email you and clarify my stance on dogs engaging in off-leash play. I strongly believe that it is good, or more accurately necessary for healthy dogs to play off-leash in safe areas while supervised by their owners. An exercised, socialized dog is a happy and well-adjusted dog.”

 

To conclude, it is terribly important that the words of credible sources such as these not be twisted to advantage by either side in this issue. I, therefore, will put any interested Commission member in direct contact with Ms. King, Ms. Feral, Ms. Santo, or other authorities quoted so that they may get firsthandtheir positions on this issue, Thank you for your attention.

 

 

 

 

Article referred to in her statement:

“Bark Parks”—A Study on Interdog Aggression in a Limited-Control Environment

Melissa R. Shyan, Kristina A. Fortune, and Christine King

Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, vol 6, no 1, 2003

 

 

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