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Brevard sees big increase in dog bites

The scars are healing and the memories are vivid for 4-year-old Nicholas Bocci, who looks into a mirror and says he looks like a monster.

Nicholas, who is recovering from a June dog bite, looked stunned viewing himself in a bathroom mirror as he studied his facial wounds one day.

"I look like a monster," Nicholas said as he turned to look at his mother.

Tammy Bocci will never forget her son's words.

Nicholas and two brothers, ages 2 and 1, were at their babysitter's home when he bent down to pet her chow. The dog bit his face, causing wounds from his left temple to his mouth that required 13 stitches.

The Boccis wanted the dog declared dangerous, which would have led to further restrictions on its access to people. But the dog owners successfully fought it in court.

"It was horrible," Tammy Bocci said about her son's wounds. "My little baby was crawling on the floor the same time it happened. What would have happened if he was the one who was bit?"

In Brevard County, the reported number of unprovoked dog bites has tripled in four years.

The number that caused minor injuries nearly tripled in four years, from 120 in 1990 to 320 last year. The number of serious injuries also is way up this year, said county Animal Control officials.

Two possible reasons for the increase are the county's burgeoning population and the growing popularity of large dogs, animal experts said. Big dogs are seen as deterrents to crime.

Problems arise when dog owners fail to exercise basic controls of their pets, such as using a leash in public areas, said Clara Gunde, executive director of the Central Brevard Humane Society.

Judy Billings, area supervisor for Animal Control, said: "We're having so many children injured by dogs. We really need to educate the public about this."