We all love and take care of our pets. For many of us, dogs are more than just companions – they’re part of the family. So if your beloved pooch bites a child, you might be taken aback. Even if it’s totally out of character for your dog, sometimes their basic instincts take over.
It’s estimated over 4 million people are bitten by animals annually, and 800,000 victims require emergency room care. Half of these ER visits are children. Be prepared for any scenario – know what to do when a dog bites.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
It may not seem like it, but your friendly Fido is a descendant of the wolf, a pack predator. Dogs are also pack animals, and these instincts come into play when children are involved.
Pack animals follow a natural pecking order – at least until that order is disrupted by a challenge. Since children are the same size as – or even smaller than – their pets, many dogs assume they’re higher in that pecking order. Dogs also have a natural instinct to protect their property and people, so they may become territorial around children when that authority is challenged.
In a perfect storm of circumstances, many young children don’t understand the concept of boundaries and are unable to pick up on aggressive cues from animals.
How Can I Prevent Dog Bites?
In a best-case scenario, you can prevent your dog from biting anyone. Take some basic preventive steps:
- Caution children about approaching your dog suddenly. If the dog gives chase, children should never run or scream.
- Don’t let children play with your dog without adult supervision.
- Teach children to never disturb a dog when it’s eating or drinking.
My Dog Bit a Child. Now What?
If your dog bit a child, your mind is probably reeling with questions. Firstly, you need to make sure the child seeks appropriate medical care. Contact the parents and meet them at the nearest ER. Even if the bite seems minor, bacteria living in a dog’s mouth can infect the wound.
Exchange contact info with the victim’s parents so they can get in touch with you later. If you don’t want to involve lawyers, you may wish to pay for the child’s medical bills.
What the Law Says About Dog Bites
In the back of your mind, you’re likely wondering if you’ll be sued by the child’s family. There is a possibility of a personal injury claim, but knowing Missouri law may provide some peace of mind.
Missouri law stipulates an owner is liable for resulting dog bite injuries if:
- The victim’s injuries were the result of a dog bite
- The victim was either on public property or on private property lawfully (i.e. not trespassing)
- The victim didn’t provoke the dog bite
Missouri is known as a “strict liability state.” In the eyes of the law, this means you’re liable for your dog’s actions even if you took reasonable care to prevent an attack.
Are There Criminal Penalties?
Missouri dog bite statutes carry a civil penalty of $1,000 if a dog owner is found guilty of negligence. If you’ve knowingly kept a “dangerous dog,” you could even face criminal charges. A “dangerous dog” is defined as one who has bitten someone without provocation in the past. This is considered a Class B misdemeanor.
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent dog bites. Always keep your dog on a leash in public and caution children about approaching your dog unannounced. In the event your dog does bite a child, consult with an Kansas City personal injury lawyer to discuss your options.