Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Great Tips for Writing to the Editor About a Dog Bite Story

By Teresa Lewin

One of the first tips I give dog bite victims is to stay clear of reader’s comments should their story be shared with the media. It can be upsetting as most times the comments stray off topic, blame is cast, and emotions are running high for the victim, owners of the dog and the dog’s fate is before the courts. Sadly no one wins in this type of trauma. The comments can turn into heated debates very quickly.

I don't know what happened to spawn this little article of mine. I don't know what motivated me for the first time to respond to the reader’s comments. It may have been on the heels of a recent visit I made to a family who is overcome with grief and fear after their young son had had a bad experience with dogs that were running at large. They are trying to make new goals in their life, but the look of despair was obvious in their eyes. It could have been the recent conversations I had had with a group of dog bite victims, who were filled with fear, anguish, and sadness, but also the will to overcome, and enjoy dogs again in their lives. It could have been the gentle look my dog cast upon me, whilst he lay his head upon my lap. Somehow I found the courage to write a short letter in response to a horrific attack upon a child that resulted in the child's death. Ah, geez I just had to pick the hardest topic in the world to make sense of and there just isn’t enough hair dye in the world to justify just how stressful that can be. Blinders on, I continue forward despite all the red flags, because I'm a dog bite prevention educator, so I must, Must, MUST send my response to educate (at this point interject a mental photo of a Jack Russell Terrier that spots a ball that it must have despite the fact that it can’t reach it…). That's what I do and that’s the reason I plugged on, writing, in hopes of sharing something that would resonate with all who chose to read the 'reader comments'. Below is a copy of my letter.

Teresa's Letter to the Editor
No matter what the breed of dog you choose to share space with, it’s best if parents do some research and prepare for the life changes, involving babies, children and dogs. Almost all dog bites can be prevented through education. Education is not about blaming any one person or animal, it is all about learning to prevent tragedy from occurring. Fire prevention is an example of what education can do. Almost everyone knows what to do ¡f you should catch on fire: Stop drop and roll. Families should be just as familiar with what to do to prevent dog a bite: Be a Tree. Doggone Safe’s mandate is all about Prevention as its primary objective and we are proud to be the first non-profit in history to have accomplish this through education and victim support.
Having said this, Doggone Safe is hosting a huge challenge this year in May for dog bite prevention week. For the whole month of May, we are going to try to reach as many children as we can, using the Be a Tree teacher kits to educate about dog bite prevention.

This is how we can all do something completely proactive. Did you know that by the time a child reaches the age of 12, more than half have been bitten by a dog? Did you also know that of those children bitten that the dog was known to them? We live in a society where we have chosen to share space with a whole other species, like the dog. It’s best to learn all we can about dog behaviour, how to communicate with them, how to condition them to live in our home with our children and society in general. Dogs are everywhere, even people and families who do not share space with a dog in their home, will meet one in the street, in a friend, family or neighbours home. The more you know about how a dog communicates the safer you will be.

Please all, visit for more information as to how to be safe around dogs and prevent dog bites. We love dogs, we love children. Let’s all do our part to help prevent terrible events like the one posted here in the news.
Five Tips to Responding to the Editor  

Many articles and letters to the editor have been written with sharing success using 5 simple steps which I have listed below. If need be, re-read my letter above and see where these tips have been used.

  1. Do not cast blame-it won’t fix the problem. Not now, not ever. There is no future there…instead write about how to avoid another attack in the future.
  2. Share the burden- The burden of society is also a point worth making such as fundraising to promote dog bite prevention in shelters, schools, community centers, to involve the whole community to address dog bite prevention.
  3. Refer to breed of dog in your response as: “the Dog”-this will help keep the reader on track with the message you are making, as well as, help set you up for success so that your message will remain intact and not be subject to debate, out of context responses, and/or political issues.
  4. Remain neutral and objective by staying on topic- if you discuss one point of view, you will have to discuss all points of view, from the victim, from the owner of dog, from the dog’s (inferred) point of view. It’s best to stick to the educational content and tips to keep everyone safe including the dog!
  5. Finally, send your comment or message to the editor of the paper and not the reader comments! You increase your chances of your comment being shared with a bigger audience. 

Advice for Dog Bite Victims

It’s also important to note that dog bite victims need to be validated. Having said that, if you know a dog bite victim that is trying to become a survivor, the best advice you can give them is:
  • Don’t read the ‘readers comments’ of your story should it make the local press
  • Seek therapy ASAP
  • Visit Doggone Safe for more tips for Dog bite victims 

If you like the letter above, please feel free to copy the letter (just give me credit for writing it on your behalf) and send it off to your local newspaper. There are many articles we have posted for your use on to copy and send to your local media.

Why don’t we set a personal challenge and send a letter a week right up and through Dog Bite Prevention Month of May! Send a copy of the letter I wrote above, or use another sample from our web site. Write your own letter to the media! I’m going to do the same.

That's a proactive thing to do.

I’m looking forward to May! Cheers all,


Teresa Lewin
Co-founder Doggone Safe Inc.

Please send your questions, comments to: 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Study: Parents Want Dog Bite Prevention Education for Children

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics concluded that dog bite prevention knowledge is poor in children, that formal dog bite prevention education is warranted and that parents desire such education for their children.

Cinnamon A. Dixon, DO, MPH, E. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, MS, Kimberly W. Hart, MA,
and Christopher J. Lindsell, PhD. 2012. Dog Bite Prevention: An Assessment of Child Knowledge. J Pediatr, 160:337-341.


To determine what children know about preventing dog bites and to identify parental desires for dog bite prevention education.

Study design 
This cross-sectional study sampled 5- to 15-year-olds and their parents/guardians presenting to a pediatric emergency department with nonurgent complaints or dog bites. The parent/guardian-child pairs completed surveys and knowledge-based simulated scenario tests developed on the basis of American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dog bite prevention recommendations. Regression analyses modeled knowledge test scores and probability of passing; a passing score was $11 of 14 questions.

Of 300 parent/guardian-child pairs, 43% of children failed the knowledge test. Older children had higher odds of passing the knowledge test than younger children, as did children with white parents vs those with  nonwhite parents. No associations were found between knowledge scores and other sociodemographic or  experiential factors. More than 70% of children had never received dog bite prevention education, although 88% of parents desired it.

Dog bites are preventable injures that disproportionately affect children. Dog bite prevention knowledge in our sample was poor, particularly among younger children and children with nonwhite parents. Formal dog  bite prevention education is warranted and welcomed by a majority of parents.

"Consequences of dog bite injuries can be temporary or lasting and include pain, disfigurement, infection, time lost from school or employment, fear, and anxiety. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons statistical data, there were >30 000 reconstructive procedures performed for dog bite injuries in 2009. Infections due to bacterial pathogens have long been described in dog bite wounds and are estimated to occur in approximately 16% of cases.8 A United Nations Children’s Fund–Alliance for Safe Children study reported animal bites to children as the number 2 cause for seeking medical care or time lost from school and work. Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder 1 month after injury has been seen in over half of children who have been bitten by a dog.

These injuries place a significant financial strain on the US medical system. The annual cost for dog bites is estimated at $120 million for emergency services alone, of which children and adolescents account for >50% and government sources pay more than a quarter of the sums. Combining direct and indirect medical expenditures, dog bites cost nearly $250 million each year."

"Despite alarming injury statistics, children aged 5-15 in our sample population often lacked the knowledge to minimize the risk of dog bites and few had received formal dog bite prevention education. In this study, younger children and children with nonwhite parents had a greater knowledge deficit than did older children and children with white parents. We conclude that this may place younger children and those with nonwhite parents at greater risk of dog bites. The vast majority of parents in our study recognized the need for dog bite prevention education and indicated health care settings as appropriate venues for providing it. Our findings reinforce that dog bite prevention education should be included in injury prevention discussions with children and parents. Further research on this topic will be helpful in addressing this problem and discovering other strategies and interventions to reduce dog bite injuries and outcomes in children."

posted with permission from the publisher