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Death by Dog?

People are more likely to be killed by the hands of a human than by the teeth of a dog.

Last week, a reader of my column commented that, “We are all painfully aware of all the incidents where unmuzzled and off leash pitbulls and other breeds have frequently mortally wounded helpless victims…”

Hmmm…are we? I, for one, am not. Rather, I’m painfully aware that I’m more likely to lose my life to human violence than to canine aggression—in spite of the fact that I spend much of my time on behavior modification work with aggressive dogs. However, I can understand why others might erroneously think that dogs have frequently mortally wounded humans. Because fatalities caused by dog attacks are so rare in the U.S., they attract a lot of spectacular media coverage. Pair that with the fact that many of us humans are more likely to remember the negative than the positive in our world, and suddenly, dogs causing mortal wounds to humans seems vastly more common in our memories than it deserves to.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a tragedy for all involved when a dog attack causes a human death. Any time a member of our own species dies an untimely and unnatural death—whether caused by a dog or a human, it causes me sadness. But you have to admit that it’s a big stretch to say that dogs “frequently mortally wound” humans when in 2011, with a population of over 78 million dogs in our country, there were only 31 incidents of humans being mortally wounded by a dog.

Now, compare that with cases of humans being mortally wounded by other humans. A 2011 report showed that in 2009, there were 16,799 murders—defined as “the willful (non-negligent) killing of one human being by another” in a population of about 300 million humans.

Why do humans intentionally kill one another? Revenge, greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, fear, gang affiliations, drugs, political reasons… The same report listed these numbers of deaths per type of motivation for 2009:

  • Rape – 24
  • Robbery – 828
  • Burglary – 110
  • Larceny-theft – 13
  • Motor vehicle theft – 23
  • Arson – 38
  • Prostitution/commercialized vice – 6
  • Other sex offenses – 10
  • Narcotic drug laws – 495
  • Gambling – 5
  • Other (unspecified felonies) – 495
  • Romantic triangle – 89
  • Child killed by babysitter – 29
  • Brawl due to influence of alcohol – 117
  • Brawl due to influence of narcotics – 94
  • Argument over money or property – 205
  • Other arguments – 3,368
  • Gangland killings – 177
  • Juvenile gangland killings – 715
  • Institutional killings – 12
  • Sniper attack – 1
  • Other non-felony, not specified – 1,996
  • Unknown, non-felony – 4,846

In the few cases where dogs have mortally wounded humans, we can infer that their motivations were usually fear, but occasionally predation.

How do humans kill one another? Overwhelmingly by use of firearms, followed by the use of knives or “cutting objects;” occasionally by clubs, hammers, hands, fists or feet; somewhat rarely by drowning, explosives, narcotics, poisoning, fire, strangulation or asphyxiation.

In the few cases where dogs have mortally wounded humans, the “weapons” used were teeth and/or claws.

Humans are, in my opinion, a much more dangerous species than dogs. With roughly 30 deaths caused by dog attacks versus well over 16,500 intentional murders (not even to mention accidental deaths caused by humans) I’d worry about being killed by another person far sooner than I’d worry about dying from a dog attack.

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