The biting truth about country vs. city dogs
Do you think you’re more likely to be bit by a city dog or a country dog?
Since dogs are more likely to run around loose on a farm, in a field, or through a small town than on the city streets, a lot of people might guess that rural dogs are more of a danger.
In fact, though, you’re almost twice as likely to get bit by a dog if you live in a city, despite the fact that there are more dog owners per capita in the countryside, according to new research from the University of Guelph’s department of population medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).
“Some people might intuitively think that rural people might be more likely to get dog bites because farm dogs are not necessarily pets, and, in the city, a dog might be more likely to be indoors more often,” explains Jan Sargent, professor of epidemiology at the OVC. “There are big differences between the way that dogs live in the city and the way dogs live in the country.”
Still, the numbers uncovered by graduate student Danielle Julien-Wright for the team paper, “Ouch! A cross-sectional study investigating self-reported human exposure to dog bites in rural and urban households in southern Ontario, Canada,” published earlier this year, show that whatever we might assume, we’re more likely to get bit in urban than rural areas.
You know who isn’t surprised that there are more dog bites in the city? Me. There’s an entire, relatively large park in my neighbourhood that I’ve given up trying to walk through altogether since, as far as I’m concerned, the dogs own it, despite the fact that it’s not an off-leash area. There is an off-leash area to the south of where the dogs all run free, but the humans have taken that as licence to treat the whole area as off-leash, despite numerous signs indicating quite the opposite.
You know who else isn’t surprised there are more dog bites in the city than in rural areas? Runners. Anyone who moves through the city on foot knows that dogs will often give chase to anyone moving at a good clip — whether training for a marathon or just walking at a brisk pace. At minimum, it’s a scary annoyance; at its worst, dangerous, since dogs give chase and sometimes bite.
Ben Kaplan, editor of iRun and author of “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now: The Rogue’s Guide to Running the Marathon,” says it’s a common complaint in his community and he personally has incidents a half-dozen times a year, despite having altered his route to avoid the areas where dog walkers routinely ignore leash bylaws.
“I’ve had pretty big arguments, you know,” says Kaplan, who says that dog walkers often just shrug like there’s nothing they can do. “Once a dog got right on me, up on his hind legs, and the owner was yelling, ‘Don’t worry, he’s friendly!’ And, I’m, like, ‘He’s friendly? I don’t care if he’s friendly,’” says Kaplan. “‘Get him off of me.’”
While running Martin Goodman Trail, Kaplan once had someone say he wouldn’t restrain his vicious-looking dog because it was a “free country.” “He was almost like an antimasker,” Kaplan recalls. “I’m not trying to impinge on your freedom. I’m just trying to get a little exercise and stay sane during the pandemic.”
This may not sound like the worst case of competing needs of different populations in the city of Toronto right now, but more people are running and walking than ever, and dog bites can be serious, especially given that the University of Guelph research revealed that nearly 17 per cent of the biting dogs were not vaccinated against rabies.
“If somebody owns a dog, they’re actually required by law to have that dog vaccinated for rabies, but our study suggests that there’s a lot of dogs out there that are not and that’s a problem,” says Sargent. “Rabies is very uncommon now but it’s a hundred per cent fatal. And there’s no religious exemption for dogs.”
Rabies is rare in Ontario right now, largely because of decades of mandatory pet vaccinations and vigilant wildlife maintenance. Still, Sargent points out that there’ve been recent outbreaks in Hamilton involving raccoons, a fox, and a couple of cats.
“When we talk about dog bites, we often fixate on rabies, for all the right reasons, because it’s a fatal disease,” Sargent says. “But the other issue is dog bites can cause infections from bacteria in the mouth of the dog, and you can get serious injuries if the dog bites you on the face.”
If you’re bitten by a dog that isn’t your own, you need to contact both your physician and local public health, so that the authorities can make sure it’s been vaccinated. Even if it has and even if it’s your dog, a trip to the doctor is advisable.
There’s also a lot of advice out there on the internet specifically geared to runners about what to do if a dog starts chasing you. Most of it involves slowing down or stopping so the dog doesn’t try to do that for you by biting your ankles, which is what they’re prone to do.
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Easier said than done, I think, since most of us automatically speed up when we feel Cujo at our heels. What’s more, this advice seems a little like victim-blaming to me. Can’t people just use a leash, in accordance with the law?
“I know people love their dogs and that’s great and God bless,” says Kaplan. “But you know this is just straight-up dangerous.”
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