Children are naturally curious about dogs. But come summer, it’s important to remember that children, free time and dogs can be a dangerous combination.
In Massachusetts, dog owners have a responsibility to keep pets under their control to prevent a dog bite injury. But they may not always do so and the risk for injury may rise come summer, when children and families have more free time. If a dog attacks, a child could be very seriously injured or even killed.
Dogs attack more often than many of us realize. Each year, more than 4.5 million people suffer dog bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children suffer at least half of all dog bites and are more likely to be severely injured, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AMVA).
While dog owners should keep control over their pets, here are some steps you can also take to protect young children and try to reduce their risk for injury:
Find out if you live near any dogs
Start by asking your neighbors if they own a dog. Check whether they have adequate fencing.
In Massachusetts, dog owners are required to apply for an annual dog license. Ask your town’s animal control office how many dogs live nearby. Have there been any recent dog bite reports? This can be valuable information as you plan your summer.
Keep children within arm’s length when visiting family and friends who own dogs
The safest approach may be to invite family and friends over to your home, where you can control the environment. If you end up visiting friends or family members, ask if they have a dog before you visit. Ask how the dog will be secured during your visit.
When you arrive, keep your young child away from the dog. Give your child time to grow and develop social skills with people first. As for older children, watch the situation closely. If the owner lets the pet out, they should be present and have control of their dog. The safest approach is for the owner to keep their dog on a leash.
Watch your child. Stay within arm’s length of your child when a dog is nearby – just as you would if you were supervising a young child in a swimming pool.
Expect your child will want to approach a dog
If a dog ever approaches, you may be surprised at your child’s response. Even if they have no experience with dogs, a child may attempt to pet and play with the animal. Your child may allow a dog close to their face. This is frightening. Many people have large dogs, such as Labradoodles, Golden Retrievers and Pit Bulls. But small breeds also have a strong and fierce bite.
What’s more frightening: the dog may not even need to approach your child. Your child may get very excited just seeing your neighbor’s dog and just run into their backyard.
Never let your guard down because you know your child and have spoken to them about safety near dogs. And never let your guard down because you have seen a dog behave well in other situations.
Build a backyard fence
Put up a backyard fence to protect your child’s play area. Keep your child’s focus away from your neighbors’ yards, pets, pools, floats and landscaping equipment.
Walk with children
Walk with your children and watch them play outside. Be vigilant about this. Schedules change during the summer. Your neighbors may not own a dog, but their guests may bring a pet over for the afternoon.
Park your car when you pick your child up at summer camp or a friend’s house. Walk and meet your child. You can expect at least one dog may live nearby or other parents may take their dogs along to pick up children.
Wild animals are another possibility during the summer. This could be the day a wild animal, such as a coyote, walks out of the woods in search of water or food. If this happens, you want to be there and slowly guide your child away.
What to Consider After a Dog Bite Injury in Massachusetts
Dog bites are traumatic and life-changing for children. These are true emergencies and it is critical to seek immediate medical attention.
Because of their size, children often suffer dog bites to their face and neck, resulting in severe injuries. Dog bites can also be fatal. If a dog bites a child, they can puncture the carotid artery or jugular vein, resulting in a high loss of blood, according to The Mayo Clinic.
It is critical to seek medical attention, even if you believe your child only suffered a small scratch. Have your child’s pediatrician examine them and help you determine if the dog was vaccinated.
Then, there is the question of what type of medical care will your child need and who will pay the medical bills. Children may need to undergo surgery – or multiple procedures – and need ongoing medical care for physical injuries and the emotional trauma.
In Massachusetts, one may file a legal claim against the dog owner to recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering and other damages, under M.G.L., Chapter 140: Section 155. Most dog owners pay compensation to victims through their homeowner’s insurance policy.
Massachusetts has strict liability when it comes to dog bites. When a dog bites, the victim must prove the dog caused the injury and that the defendant was the owner or keeper of the dog. But one does not have to prove the dog had a history of attacks.
Massachusetts law recognizes that young children cannot appreciate the dangers near dogs. The law presumes the child was not trespassing or teasing an animal at the time of the attack.
Free Legal Consultation – Boston Personal Injury Lawyers
Breakstone, White & Gluck has over 125 years combined experience successfully obtaining record recoveries for clients who have suffered serious dog bites and other injuries. We are here to help clients and families with every aspect of the difficulties they face after the trauma of a dog bite attack. We invite you to read about our results for clients in dog bite cases.