Fatality data collection method ::

In addition to collecting a voluminous number of news reports for the small number dog bite fatality victims each year, we also collect photographs, police and coroner reports, court filings and more.

News reports & photographs

Our data for U.S. dog bite fatality statistics is largely based on a massive number of news reports -- which often include photographs and video -- collected at the time of the attack. For instance, in 2016 we collected over 740 news articles for 31 victims. During this same period, 72% of all fatal dog attacks had one or more breed identification photograph. The news media was responsible for capturing 62% of these images. The majority of the rest were captured on social media websites.

We collect a trove of data on social media websites about the breeds of dogs involved and their owners. This is especially true when the fatal dog mauling involves pit bulls to dispel breed misidentification rumors. We don't stop at the source dogs either, we also try to capture lineage -- the parents and offspring of the involved dogs. In 2016, we collected 3.76 gigabytes of data on 31 victims; a portion of that data came from public graphical content on social media websites.

"For each fatal dog attack victim we try to capture 33 different parameters and that cannot be done by 'solely' relying on media reports. - DogsBite.org, August 29, 2017

We also research the owners of the involved dogs on Facebook (neighbors, relatives, boyfriends, or anyone suspected of owning the attacking dogs) to understand relationships and temporary scenarios, such as, if a relative owned the attacking dog, was that relative visiting the victim's home at the time of the fatal dog attack? In several recent cases, this area of research has shown owners of the involved dogs admitting to previous vicious behavior of the animal as well.

Police reports & legal documents

On an annual basis, our nonprofit submits at least five FOIAs (public information requests) to collect police or coroner report information. Sometimes this involves fatal attacks the media has not covered or when the information released by police was very limited. Other times, we submit FOIAs to coroner offices when we suspect there are more dog bite deaths in a jurisdiction. We also reach out to multiple sheriffs' departments in order to gain additional facts and confirmation.

Every year DogsBite.org receives information from family members of fatal dog mauling victims as well, either directly or through the victims' advocacy network.

In addition to public information requests, we document all legal and legislative materials that arise after a fatal dog mauling, such as civil lawsuits, criminal filings and legislative actions. The results of a fatal dog mauling may include years of court proceedings, such as the 2009 fatal pit bull mauling of Lowell Bowden in West Virginia, whose civil claim has reached the appellate level twice and the 2006 mauling death of a 10-year old boy, which took eight years to resolve in the courts.

Legal document summary:

  • We send out five of more FOIAs annually to collect police report or coroner report information.
  • We write detailed and extended FOIAs for family members who have suffered the loss of a child in a fatal dog mauling.
  • We receive fatality information directly from family members of fatal dog mauling victims, as well as the dog bite victims' advocacy network.
  • Each year, we reach out to multiple sheriffs' departments to gain additional facts and confirmation about fatal dog mauling cases.
  • We collect all possible civil lawsuit filings related to fatal dog maulings.
  • We collect all possible criminal charges related to fatal dog maulings and closely follow all cases in the media that reach the trial level.
  • We collect all possible appellate court rulings, both civil cases and criminal cases, that arise after a fatal dog mauling.
  • We collect all public news releases by police departments in cases of fatal dog maulings. Access to these releases is growing more common as law enforcement departments release them on social media.
  • Finally, we attempt to collect legislative materials that arise from a fatal dog mauling, such as a new state law or a city passing a breed-specific ordinance after a person's mauling death.

The parameters we collect

Our nonprofit attempts to collect 33 separate parameters for each fatal dog mauling victim. Our parameters essentially breakdown the "attack scenario" into smaller pieces. Over the 12 years of our dog bite fatality documentation, our list of parameters has grown as we identify new trends in fatal dog attack scenarios. In 2012, for instance, we added item 16 in response to the growing number of "rescue" or recently "rehomed" dogs that subsequently mauled an individual to death.

Adding new parameters after identifying a trend is critical, but also very time consuming. We then must review all fatal attacks (hundreds of cases) before the trend arose to determine if any of the other cases involved these criteria. Also, it is safe to say that there should be national reporting requirements after a fatal dog mauling. Law enforcement departments should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal attack, including these items:

Baseline reporting requirements:

  1. Involved dog breed(s)
  2. Identification photograph of the involved dog(s)
  3. Gender(s) of the involved dog(s)
  4. Spay/neuter status of the involved dog(s)
  5. History of attacks of the involved dog(s)
  6. Ownership of the involved dog(s)
  7. Did the victim know the involved dogs?
  8. Cause of death

The 33 parameters we collect:

Dog breed identification photograph collection is in addition to these parameters.

  1. Month
  2. Date
  3. City
  4. County
  5. State
  6. Is state part of the Southern United States?
  7. Does state have a preemption law prohibiting breed-specific laws?
  8. Name of victim
  9. Age of victim
  10. Gender of victim
  11. Contributory (Were dog bites a contributing factor in the person's death?)
  12. Involved dog breed(s)
  13. Pack attack (Were four or more dogs involved in the fatal attack?)
  14. Number of dogs involved
  15. Gender(s) of the involved dog(s)
  16. Was the involved dog a "rescue" or "rehomed" dog?
  17. If yes, was it vetted by an animal shelter prior to the fatal attack?
  18. Spay or neuter status of the involved dogs
  19. Was there evidence of recent breeding at the time of the fatal attack?
  20. On property attack
  21. Off property attack
  22. Chained dog attack
  23. Family dog attack
  24. Non-family dog attack
  25. Ownership of the involved dog(s)
  26. Were there meaningful criminal charges?
  27. If yes, the type of criminal charges (felony or misdemeanor)
  28. Was the victim 0-4 months in age
  29. Was the victim 0-12 months in age
  30. Was the involved dog new to the home (0-2 months in time)?
  31. Did the attack involve a "watcher" such as a babysitter or a person dog-sitting?
  32. Was the victim visiting or temporarily living with the dog owner at the time of the fatal attack?
  33. Reverse visiting: Was the dog visiting the victim's home at the time of the fatal attack?

Validating number of deaths

To validate that we are not undercounting dog bite fatalities, every few years we conduct a combined year comparison to CDC WONDER Database, which collects the underlying cause of death for all mortalities. The ICD-10 mortality code is W54 and combines "bitten or struck by dog" into the same category. Our last comparison was conducted in April 2019. We compared our 13-year fatality data set from 2005 to 2017 to the same 13-year period in the CDC database.

Our total was 435, versus the CDC total of 436. To account for our excluding "struck by dog" deaths from our data collection, we presumed 1.5% of all CDC database deaths (6) were stuck by dog deaths. This lowered the CDC number to 430. However, we also include deaths when severe and catastrophic bite injuries contribute to a person's death, though the underlying cause of death may be cardiac arrest or other cause. These cases encompass 3.7% of deaths in our data set.

How breeds & mixed-breeds are tracked

All dog breeds recognized by major kennel clubs (American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club) are tracked in separate categories for our dog bite fatality statistics. This means that all "baiting" bull breeds, fighting and guardian breeds are tracked separately, including, but not limited to: American bulldogs, cane corsos, dogo argentinos, mastiffs, pit bulls and presa canarios.

"Mixed-breeds" are tracked according to the predominant breed. For instance, if a rottweiler-mix is predominantly rottweiler, it is tracked in the rottweiler category. When both breeds are known, rottweiler-boxer mix, the predominant breed is always listed first. If there is no prevailing breed or if the only information available is "mixed-breed," the dog is tracked in the mixed-breed category.

The effect of multi-breed attacks

A multi-breed attack is defined as an attack involving multiple dogs of different breeds. For instance, the death of one human involving one mastiff, one pit bull and two rottweilers is a multi-breed attack involving three dog breeds. This effect causes a mismatch when comparing the total number of human deaths attributed to each breed versus the actual number of human deaths.

From 2005 to 2017, 40 different dog breeds contributed to the deaths of over 400 people. Due to the fact that 9.5% of these fatalities were multi-breed attacks, the total number of human deaths attributed to each breed exceeds the actual number of human deaths. This mismatch could only be avoided if 100% of all dog bite fatalities, including pack attacks, involved a single dog breed.

Web archiving past fatalities

Every four or five years after a fatal dog mauling, we try to connect our original dog bite fatality blog post's external links to the Internet Archives or materials we have previously captured. News articles have a limited online lifespan, depending upon the media outlet, and broken links are a constant problem that we face. Yet, we take this extra time to ensure that past dog bite fatalities can still be browsed by the public even though we already have this information internally.