By Debra Bell
Of the Weekly Staff
In 2011, seven-month-old Annabelle Mitchell was bit and killed by the family’s rottweiler while her mother was passed out on the couch of their Frankfort home. State officials noted at the time that the incident was the first dog bite-related fatality in Maine in 40 years.
Cases as severe as Annabelle’s are rare in Maine, however the likelihood of a person being bit is not.
Most recently a 12-year-old Lebanon girl was bitten by a pair of seven-month-old pitbull puppies on Friday, April 27.
The Center for Disease Control reports that each year 4.5 million people in the United States receive a reportable dog bite and 800,000 Americans — half of whom are children — seek medical attention for a dog bite. Yet only 16 people die from dog bites, the CDC reports.
Which means there’s a lot of room for prevention, Green Acres Kennel Shop owner Don Hanson said. And May’s a great time to hone learn prevention. That’s because it’s dog bite prevention month.
There’s no doubt that dog bites are scary. They cause physical and emotional scars and the after effects for the dog can be, well, fatal.
However the fact is that any dog, any size, and any age can bite.
Hanson is a certified dog trainer, a pet behaviorist, and owner of the kennel, located at 1653 Union St. in Bangor. His experience working with pet owners and his role as the past chair of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers give him insight into the tremendous and tenuous relationship dogs have with their people.
And the relationship between kids and dogs can leave a lot of room for education. After all, kids are dog-sized humans.
“Kids don’t inherently know the signs for when a dog is feeling uncomfortable,” Hanson said. “Dogs communicate tons. It can be with their eyes, their ears, or there might be growling. If the dog is growling, most people recognize that this is something to pay attention to.”
Dogs use their bodies, from eyes to tails, to communicate how they’re feeling. The way a dog’s mouth appears, how their eyes look, how their tail is being held, and their stance all give important clues.
And snapping or biting aren’t the first clues a dog gives that it’s feeling uncomfortable, intimidated, or unhappy. Even more, growling is not a punishable offense: It’s a warning.
“There are four victims in a dog bite,” Hanson said. “The person who was bit, their family, their extended family, and the dog itself. Most dogs go out of their way not to bite, and they give lots of signals. However, it’s usually the dog that is singled out and pays serious consequences with its life.”
Locally there will be several opportunities to learn about what dogs are trying to communicate as well as how to prevent dog bites in the first place.
Paws Down Training Service, housed at For Dogs Boutique at 251 Main Road, Holden, will hold a Canine Body Language Seminar on Sat., May 4 from 10-11 a.m. at For Dogs. Jack and Diane Cunningham will teach adults about the cues canines give and how to understand what they’re saying.
“We will give an overview of canine body language in general and then an overview of dog to dog behavior,” Diane Cunningham said. “It’s also a fundraiser for the Bangor Dog Park.”
Paws Down Training Service has offered this type of workshop before, but decided to do another one due to requests from their clients who were using the Dog Park and wanted to be better educated about what their dog and other dogs were “saying.”
The seminar is $5 which will benefit the Bangor Dog Park organization. Advanced registration is requested. Call 989-7297 to reserve your spot.
Green Acres Kennel Shop, 1653 Union St. in Bangor, will offer “Be a Tree” programs on Saturday, May 18 at 2 p.m. and again on Sunday, May 19 at 1 p.m. The seminars are aimed at children ages 5-9, their parents, and caregivers and will discuss when a dog is safe to approach and how to avoid dog bites.
Learn more about dog bite prevention, including some helpful tips to teach kids by visiting critters.bangordailynews.com.
Debra Bell is a special sections writer at the Bangor Daily News. She is also a professional photographer specializing in pet photography. She is owned by Olivia, a Maine coon cat, and Laura, a greyhound. Debra is the author of the “Critters” Blog located at critters.bangordailynews.com.