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.
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), and mutilation or amputation injuries. The vast majority of deaths occur immediately, or within hours of the attack or while the victim is hospitalized, typically one to several days or several weeks after the 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."
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 the dog's owner.
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 FOIA requests (public records requests made by our nonprofit). From 2005 to 2019, 11 deaths (of a total of 521), were discovered by these methods, 2% of all cases. Adults 50 and older were the most common victims and the most common dog breeds involved were bull breeds.
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 same period, 81% of fatal dog attack cases had one or more breed identification photograph. Of the 266 dog bite fatalities recorded by our nonprofit between 2013 and 2019, 63% (168), had 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 dog 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. In 2019, we collected 9.4 gigabytes of data on 48 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 (neighbors, relatives, a boyfriend, or anyone suspected of owning the attacking dog) 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 mauling? In several cases, this type of online research has uncovered the owner(s) of the dog admitting to previous vicious behavior of that animal.
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 very limited. Other times, we submit FOIAs to medical examiner offices when we suspect there are more dog bite fatalities in a jurisdiction. We also reach out to multiple sheriffs' departments in order to gain additional facts and confirmation.
In addition to FOIAs, we document legal and legislative materials that arise after a fatal dog attack, such as civil lawsuits, criminal filings and legislative actions. The results of a fatal mauling may include years of court proceedings. The civil claim after a Tennessee man was killed by pit bulls in 2010 took eight years to resolve in the courts and 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.
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 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 media and the public after each fatal attack, including these items:
Dog breed identification photograph collection is in addition to these parameters.
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 May 2021. We compared our 15-year 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. In the older categories, ≥ 70 years, there may be a number of "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.
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., Italian, English, 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 commonly part of multi-dog 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 Americans. 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 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 only comprised of a single dog breed.
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.