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Gathering Place
John Askam

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Perspective is needed
in dog-bite discussion

Well, it seems that after the unfortunate incident in November involving the mauled woman and the pit bull on Maui, that it is now open season on all dogs and their owners. As an owner of three dogs, I find myself obligated to come to their defense. I feel some cold hard facts need to be presented to offset the rash of emotional hyperbole.

First, during the period from 1979-'98, there were a total of 238 dog-bite-related deaths in the entire United States, according to the Web site dogbitelegalcenter.com. Of those, roughly 58 percent occurred on their owners' property while the dog was unrestrained, which I might add is a $50 fine for the first offense and rises $50 for each additional offense here on Maui. Of those deaths that occurred off owner property, about 60 percent involved more than one dog. Based on those statistics, your chances of being killed by a dog bite are somewhere in the range of 1 in 20 million. With an estimated 68 million dogs in America as pets, that suggests that somewhere in the range of 10 to 12 will be involved in such instances per year. With an estimated population of just over 1 million residents in Hawaii, that equates to one death every 20 years on average.

Now, how about the real killers. During that same 20 year period, Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports approximately 435,000 people died from alcohol-related traffic accidents. In fact, in the year 2003 alone, 72 people in Hawaii died at the mercy of drunken drivers. That means you are more than 2,800 times more likely to die in your car than by entering someone's yard who owns a "vicious" dog that's "loose." With more than 17,000 deaths nationwide each year, someone is killed every 30 minutes or so at the hands of an drunken driver compared to 1 every 30 days at the jaws of a dog.

Now the real irony. If all three of my dogs got loose and ran free in the neighborbood, or for that matter in my unfenced yard, I would be subject to a total of $150 in fines. Having read several years of court blotters in the Maui News, I can safely say that were I to notice my dogs missing, proceeded to drink a fifth of scotch, hopped in my car with its fully tinted windows, broken windshield, and expired registration, then proceeded to travel down lower main street swerving across the center divider, while traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit, ran a red light or two, all without fatally injuring a pedestrian or another driver, and finally stopped to pick up my dogs, at which time I was apprehended by the Maui police department, I could expect to get, you guessed it, a $150 fine when I appeared in court. Of course, if I had some crystal meth or marijuana in my car, I'd be in serious trouble. Yep, headed for a stint in the Maui Drug Court.

Hurry, let's go impound all those dogs and put them down so we can be safe! Just be careful driving while you're picking them up.

John Askam lives in Wailuku, Maui, with a Rottweiler and a Doberman.

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