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Neutering dogs may be kindest cut when it comes to preventing dog bites

TAMPA — When a toddler was attacked by a dog in her yard Tuesday, the story made headlines and reignited a recurring cycle of emotion and blame.

Readers fumed on tampabay.com:

Once again parents not watching.

Only idiots and dog fighters own pit bulls!

Mia Kinsman, 2, was in fair condition at Tampa General Hospital Thursday night. She was walking toward her mother when the pit bull-mastiff mix named Hunter attacked, clamping his jaws around her head.

But beyond the debate about parenting and pit bulls, animal experts say serious dog attacks do tend to have one thing in common: an intact male dog. Like Hunter.

Unneutered male dogs are involved in 70 to 76 percent of reported dog bites in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"We know that an intact male is four times more likely to bite," said Hillsborough Animal Services spokesperson Marti Ryan. "It's not because they're mean. This is nature."

Karen Delise has extensively studied dog attacks and written two books on the subject. She had heard about Hunter.

Her research, which involved fatal attacks, shows the percentage of intact males involved is even higher — between 90 and 95 percent. There were 59 fatal dog attacks in the United States in 2005 and 2006, she says, involving 109 dogs. Just five of those were spayed or neutered.

An intact male is hormonal. Sexually curious. More likely to escape. Showing dominance. Territorial.

And this dog was 2, which makes him 14 in dog years.

"Think about a 14-year-old boy," Ryan said. "He wants to get out of the house."

No matter the breed.

"We can't blame the breed," Delise said, "because there are always going to be people who want bad a-- dogs and don't discourage bad or negative behavior as a consequence."

Other factors common to serious attacks include: dogs who are kept for long periods on chains; dogs whose primary purpose is protection, fighting or breeding for profit; and dogs who are poorly trained and socialized.

Hunter liked to play tug-of-war with a large teddy bear, his owner told authorities. The 80-pound dog was loose in the yard with the girl, whom he didn't know. It was the dog's first visit to Mia's house. His owner, David Soloman Arthur III, 38, has a criminal record that includes domestic violence and drug possession charges. He was cited for owning an aggressive dog and expired tags. An Animal Services investigator called him "not a responsible person."

"It was a perfect storm," Ryan said.

Hunter was euthanized.

Ryan has heard from people who believe all sorts of falsehoods about how neutering would change a dog. Some even think it would change the dog's sexual preference.

It will not.

"This is your pet," Ryan said. "He will never know the difference."

Times correspondent David Gardner contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgom ery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

Five ways to prevent dog bites

• Spay or neuter your dog. Intact dogs are three times more likely to bite. There are several inexpensive or free clinics in the Tampa Bay area. To make an appointment with the Animal Coalition of Tampa, call (813) 818-9381; or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Largo, (727) 586-3591.

• Never leave infants or young children alone with a dog.

• Don't play aggressive games with your dog. Before he attacked Mia, Hunter enjoyed playing tug-of-war with a large teddy bear.

• Don't leave a dog chained for long periods of time. Chained dogs are likely to become frustrated, territorial and aggressive. They are 2.8 times more likely to bite than unchained dogs.

• Make sure your dog is properly trained and is taught submissive behaviors.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida Department of Health, Hillsborough Animal Control and news reports.

By the numbers

74.8 million dogs in the United States

800,000 people annually require medical treatment for dog bites

$356.2 million paid by insurance companies in dog bite liability claims in 2007

3,500 average number of postal workers bitten each year

50 percent of bites go unreported

Sources: National Canine Research Council, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Postal Service, Insurance Information Institute

Neutering dogs may be kindest cut when it comes to preventing dog bites 03/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 9:53am]
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