Dogs more dangerous than bears?
Alaskans worrying about bear attacks – as many do – might be spending too much time focused on the wrong animal, according to new data coming out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
It is reporting a skyrocketing tally of people killed by dogs.
“From 2018 to 2021, deaths (of people bit or struck by dogs) more than doubled for both males (from 15 to 37) and females (from 20 to 44),” according to the numbers in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued at the start of the month.
The report offered no explanation for the increase to 81 deaths in 2021, the last year in the report, but the number was almost twice the 43 deaths per year average for the decade and continued a rising trend that started in 2017.
Bears killed four people in the U.S. in 2021, which near the annual average since 2020 with slightly more fatalities in the Lower 48 (6) than in Alaska (5), according to a database maintained by Wikipedia.
Part of the increase in deadly dog attacks could be tied to rising dog ownership in the U.S., as noted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and part to the inability or unwillingness of some to socialize and/or control their dogs.
In Anchorage, the social media website Nextdoor regularly lights up with reports of dog attacks, though most invovle dogs going after other dogs. Still, a study of fatal dog attacks published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine in 2009 reported that Alaska had “the highest death rate from dog attacks.”
The data in the study covered the years 1979 to 2005, and the authors noted then that “the number of deaths and death rate from dog attacks appear to be increasing.” That prediction has, unfortunately, proven sadly true.
More dogs, more dog attacks
“The increase in the number of households with dogs looks large, but it occurred over a six-year period, which is actually pretty conservative growth,” according to Rosemary Radich, the former principal data scientist for the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.
Whether the increase is large or small depends to some extent on personal views of what is an appropriate percentage of households with dogs.
Americans already own far more dogs than the residents of any other country, according to World Population Review, but dogs don’t occupy quite as many households as in Brazil.
“It also appears by some reports that dog ownership is on the rise in Brazil, with approximately 50 percent of Brazilians being dog owners,” the website says. “The economy of Brazil is able to sustain a dog life with most of Brazil being a middle-class economy. It is also reported in some sectors that high infertility rates contribute to the high rate of dog ownership in Brazil.
“China is the third country on the list with the most dogs in the world. The Chinese own approximately 27 million dogs in total, with both domesticated and strays becoming important parts of life to the Chinese. Like Brazil, this may have something to do with fertility rates.
“In China, birth rate laws exist where families are not allowed to have more than one child due to overcrowding in the country. Dogs are the next choice for family members for many citizens of China.”
European ownership per household appears much lower. The data website Statista reports dogs in 27 percent of households in Spain, 21 percent of German households, 20 percent in French households, 34 percent of households in the United Kingdom, and 12 percent in Switzerland, while Poland rises to near U.S. levels at 43 percent.
This didn’t stop Vivid Maps from painting Poland as more a cat-loving country when it ranked pet ownership around the world. France and the United Kingdom joined Spain as dog lovers, apparently because residents in neither of the former countries are as found of pets as peole in the U.S.
Vivid’s map painted Alaska, Hawaii and the 48 continental states as part of a big, blue, dog-loving country, while Canada had gone to the cats. But the mapping was hardly scientific.
The website said that a team from Budget Direct Pet Insurance “analyzed Instagram posts using the following hashtags: #ilovecats, #catloversclub, #catlovers, #ilovedogs, #dogloversclub & #doglovers, and then extracting the geolocation data of each post. With this information in hand, they awarded the pet’s victory with the higher share of posts.
“This analysis was done both at a country, state, and city-level to crown the most dog/cat-loving cities in the world. Finally, Budget Direct Pet Insurance produced maps with the highest proportion of dog/cat lovers.”
So, at best, the mapping reflected the countries with the most dog- or cat-loving owners on Instragam, which might explain that while the U.S. was in general judged a dog nation, 12 states – including Alaska – were said to have more cat lovers than dog lovers.
No business appears to have made an effort to quantify which states are home to more dog haters or cat haters, but the Nextdoor website regularly attracts a lot of attention from people who dislike one, the other or both, although most of the anger is directed at the owners of the animals.
Bears are wild animals that sometimes do what wild animals do. Cats and dogs are domestic animals that are supposed to be under the control of their owners, but in the case of many aren’t.
A San Antonio, Tex., TV station was earlier this month was reporting residents of a neighborhood there had taken to carrying baseball bats for protection from loose dogs after a 68-year-old man was seriously mauled.
He was arrested and charged with causing serious bodily injury to an elderly person, a felony in Texas, and owning a dangerous dog.