MANSFIELD -- A child in Mansfield crawled into a strange dog's cage and was bitten. Another child ran and jumped on a sleeping, familiar family dog -- who responded by biting the child.
In the eyes of Richland County Dog Warden Dane Howard and Missy Houghton, director of the county Humane Society, these recent, actual local dog bite cases could easily have been avoided.
"We have had quite a few of them that could be avoided with just some basic safety tips," Howard said during a recent interview at Richland Source, accompanied by Houghton.
"A lot of the dog bites are with children and that's the most disturbing thing for me," Howard said. "In my opinion, the vast majority (of dog bites) could have been avoided."
Houghton said dog owners have the responsibility to protect their animal from misbehaving and allowing anything that could put the dog in danger. She said parents have the responsibility to watch their children around animals and educate them how to safely interact with dogs.
The simple fact, they both agreed, is all dogs are capable of biting.
"I think people have started to disregard the warning (signs) dogs give," Houghton said. "They think dogs should never be allowed to growl or things of that nature ... when those are just warning signs that things are about to escalate.
"If a dog tenses up, or his eyes widen and you see the whites of his eyes, we call it whale eyes, if they avert their head, start to curl their lips and show their teeth .. those are all warning signs," Houghton said.
Houghton said social media is filled with videos people post of a child sitting on a dog or bouncing on a dog.
"That's just something (bad) waiting to happen," she said. "Parents must teach their children to respect the animals they are around. If's unfortunate when a child gets bit for something that was preventable.
"Not only is the child traumatized and injured, the dog could be deemed dangerous through no fault of its own. It's just doing what dogs do. At the end of the day, they have teeth and they are quite capable of biting."
Howard said, "A dog has few defense mechanisms. They have teeth. They can either run or fight ... flight or fight ... in most cases, the bite involving a child could have been avoided with proper education of the child."
Houghton said it's important for new dog owners to also "educate" their new animal before just taking them to a dog part or big event.
"Start by allowing your dog two to three weeks to decompress before you introduce it to anyone outside the family. It's a major life change for a dog to change living environments, whether you adopt it from a shelter or somewhere else.
"Second, manage every interaction the dog has so it has positive interactions with children, other animals and adults. Learn your dog's behavior. Continue the interactions in new, controlled environments.
"Build the dog's self-confidence and the belief that you will protect them and not put them into a position where they have to defend themselves," she said.
She compared it to raising a toddler.
"If you gave a toddler free reign, they are not going to make the best decisions. It's the same way with a dog if you don't provide it any training," Houghton said.
The majority of dog bite cases involve the animal being provoked in some way, Howard said. However, when an unprovoked dog bites a human and causes injury, state law requires the county dog warden to classify that animal as dangerous.
Howard said that classification requires many changes for the owner and the dog, including fenced-in yards and/or pens, muzzles when the dog is taken out, and a costlier dog license fee. (see documents on right)
Howard and Houghton also agree any breed of dog is capable of biting.
"The smaller breeds may bite more frequently, but the damage is less. A lot of it is tolerance with smaller dogs you would never allow with larger breeds," Houghton said.
"I don't think it's any particular breed. It's based on the genetics of that individual animal, the owner's behavior and the training that animal receives," she said.
Howard said people need to understand adopting and training a dog is a long-term commitment.
"It's a lifetime responsibility for that dog," he said. "We see people who pass a background check and adopt a dog and then want to bring it back in two or three days because it takes more work than they thought."