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.

How we define a fatal dog attack

We define a fatal dog mauling as: (1) A vicious attack, (2) resulting in severe or catastrophic injury, and (3) the victim dies. Severe injury includes: injuries requiring multiple surgical procedures, injuries resulting in broken bones, multiple deep bite injuries (Level 5 bite), mutilation, or amputation injuries. The vast majority of deaths occur immediately, or less so, within hours of the attack or while the victim is hospitalized, typically one to several days or several weeks after the violent dog attack.

On every dog bite fatality page, we list excluded victims and the types of cases that are excluded: "Deaths involving minor dog bite injury, dog-related caused injury (killed by a car while fleeing a dog) and cases that lacked a 'reasonably clear' determination of death after dog bite injury are not included in our fatality statistical data. Deaths involving fatal non-bite injury (struck by dog death) or deaths due to untreated severe dog bites (sepsis) may be added to our data at a future time," we state.

Capturing fatal dog attacks

How we capture fatal dog attacks for all breeds reported in U.S. news reports begins with 14 generic phrases assigned to Google News Alerts. All 14 phrases are intentionally non-breed specific. Once an attack is captured, 2-4 case-specific terms are created to ensure that any new information about the dog bite fatality is captured as well. A case-specific phase is often "name of county, dog attack." It also may be the first and last name of the victim, or in cases of criminal charges, the dog owner's name

The 14 generic terms have been in use since 2008-2013, according to a recent search of incomplete archived emails of those years. - DogsBite.org, October 17, 2022

Occasionally we capture a new fatal dog mauling when, (1) a family member or friend of the victim directly reports the attack to us, (2) it is discovered on social media then verified, or (3) it is found through a FOIA request, a public records request made by our nonprofit. From 2005 to 2023, 31 deaths (of a total of 740), were discovered by these methods, 4% of all cases. Adults 40-years and older were the most common fatality victims, 74%. The most common dog breeds involved were bull breeds.

Generic fatal dog attack alerts

  1. child dies dog attack
  2. child killed by dog
  3. death dog bite
  4. dog bite fatality
  5. fatal dog attack
  6. fatally attacked by dog
  7. felony dog attack
  8. infant killed by dog
  9. infant mauled by dog
  10. killed by dog
  11. killed in dog attack
  12. mauled to death
  13. woman dies dog attack
  14. bitten to death

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 2019 we collected over 1,025 news articles for 48 victims. During this one year period, 81% of fatal dog attack cases had one or more breed identification photograph. Of the 486 dog bite fatalities recorded by our nonprofit between 2013 and 2023, 61% (298), had some form of a breed identification image.

We collect a trove of data on social media websites about the breeds of dogs involved and their owners. This is especially true when a fatal mauling involves pit bulls to dispel breed misidentification rumors. We don't stop at the source dog either, we also try to capture lineage -- the parents and offspring of the involved dog -- as well as bloodlines. In 2023, we collected 20.5 gigabytes of data for 60 victims; parts of that data are public photographs and videos from 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 research the owners of the involved dog on Facebook and Instagram (parents, relatives, a boyfriend, neighbors, or anyone suspected of owning the dog) to understand his or her relationship to the victim and if a temporary scenario was involved. For instance, was the victim visiting a relative's home, who owned the dog, at the time of the fatal dog mauling? In several cases, this type of online research has uncovered the owner of the dog admitting to previous vicious behavior of that canine.

Police reports & legal documents

On an annual basis, our nonprofit submits 5 to 30 FOIAs (public information requests) to collect police and coroner reports. Sometimes this involves fatal dog attacks the media has not covered or when the information released by police was limited. Other times, we submit FOIAs to medical examiner offices when we suspect there are more dog bite fatalities in that jurisdiction. We also reach out to multiple police and sheriffs' departments to gain supplementary facts, including breed confirmation.

In addition to FOIAs, we document the 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 attack may include years of court proceedings. The civil claim after a Tennessee man was killed by multiple pit bulls in 2010 took eight years to resolve in the courts. The conviction of a South Carolina dog owner after his pack of dogs killed a boy in 2006 was reinstated by the state supreme court in 2014.

Legal document summary:

  • We send out 5 to 30 FOIAs annually to collect police and coroner reports, as well as animal control records.
  • We write detailed and extended FOIAs for family members who have suffered the loss of a family member in a fatal dog mauling.
  • We receive fatality information directly from family members of fatal dog attack victims, as well as through the dog bite victims' advocacy network.
  • We review and publish audio dispatch log recordings from Fire and EMS departments who respond to the scene of a fatal dog mauling.
  • Every year, we reach out to multiple police and sheriffs' departments to gain additional facts and confirmation about fatal dog attack cases.
  • 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 increasingly release them on social media.
  • We collect all possible civil lawsuit filings related to fatal dog maulings.
  • We collect all possible criminal filings related to fatal dog attacks and closely follow all cases in the media that reach the trial level.
  • We collect all possible state and federal appellate court rulings, both civil cases and criminal cases, that arise after a fatal dog mauling.
  • Finally, we attempt to collect legislative materials that arise from a fatal dog attack, such as a new state law or a city passing a breed-specific ordinance.

The parameters we collect

Our nonprofit attempts to collect 33 separate parameters for each fatal dog mauling victim. Our parameters essentially breakdown the lethal "attack scenario" into smaller pieces. Over the many 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 news media and the public after each fatal dog 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 (dog bites a contributing factor in person's death)
  12. Involved dog breed(s)
  13. Pack attack (attacks involving four or more dogs)
  14. Number of dogs involved
  15. Gender(s) of the involved dog(s)
  16. Was the involved dog a "shelter" or "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 comprehensive comparison was conducted in May 2021. We compared our 15-year dog bite fatality data set from 2005 to 2019 to the same 15-year period in CDC Wonder database.

Our total was 522, versus CDC Wonder database total of 519. The ages of victims, however, were significantly different. Our data shows 73 additional child deaths (≤ 9 years) and CDC data shows 88 additional adult deaths (≥ 50 years). Certainly, the adult deaths, 50-69 years old, may involve a number of family dog attacks that never reach the media. The older age group, ≥ 70 years old, may include multiple "struck by dog deaths" that our nonprofit already excludes from our data.

During this 15-year period, our data captured 96 adults, ages 50-69 years old, killed by dogs (CDC=151). Pit bulls inflicted 73% (70) of these deaths, which is 10 times more frequently than the next closest breed, German shepherds (7 deaths), and over 2.5 times more frequently than all other breeds combined (26 deaths). Thus, despite a lack of news reports for 55 adults (50-69 years) killed by dogs, the only known evidence indicates that pit bulls are the chief perpetrators of these fatal attacks.

Ongoing Covid Impact

We continue to document the Covid impact on our capture rate as well. CDC Wonder data is often delayed by more than a year. In the fall of 2022, we documented in our 2020 Macro-Level Forces report that for the first time, there was a sudden disparity. Previous to 2020, during the 15-year period of 2005 to 2019, the largest deficit of unreported deaths was 4 each for the years of 2005 and 2010. During the 2020 year of novel Covid conditions, there was a deficit of 15 unreported deaths.

In April 2023, we published in our 2021 Macro-Level Forces report that this disparity increased. CDC Wonder data shows there were 81 dog bite fatalities in 2021. Our nonprofit recorded 52 deaths, a 44% difference. The disparity during the second year of the pandemic was greater than the first year, even though media reports only fell by 35% in 2021, compared to falling 47% in 2020 from the pre-Covid baseline year of 2019. We continue to send out FOIAs for these years to decrease these disparities.

How breeds & mixed-breeds are tracked

All dog breeds recognized by major United States 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, bull terriers, cane corsos, dogo Argentinos, pit bulls and presa canarios. We do combine mastiffs (e.g., mastiff, Italian, English, South African, Neapolitan) into a single category.

"Mixed-breeds" are tracked according to the dog's predominant breed. For instance, if a rottweiler-mix is predominantly rottweiler, it is tracked in the rottweiler category. When both breeds are known, such as a rottweiler-boxer mix, the predominant breed is always listed first. When there are no prevailing breed characteristics or if the only information known is "mixed-breed," the dog is tracked in the mixed-breed category. Mixed-breeds are often part of pack attacks on Indian reservations.

The effect of multi-breed attacks

A multi-breed attack is defined as a fatal dog 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 different dog breeds. The multi-breed effect causes a mismatch when comparing the total number of human deaths attributed to each breed versus the actual number of humans killed by dogs (e.g., one human death results in counting three different dog breeds).

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

Web archiving past fatalities

Every five or six 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. Broken links and paywalls are ongoing problems that our nonprofit faces. 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.