Cap Region Pets

‘Tis – unfortunately – the season for dog bites

Lori Romo calls Papas, her American Staffordshire Terrier pit-bull mix, “very sweet and affectionate.”

But this holiday season, Romo, an airport screener at Mineta San Jose International, will be leaving him at home or keeping him on a short leash by her side at family gatherings. That’s because Papas has been known to bark or even nip people when they argue — and that was before this month’s presidential election.

“He will be restrained for the majority of the time,” said Romo, 43, of San Jose. And “I will not bring him to my grandma’s house” if children are around.

Kenneth Phillips says that’s a good idea. “Dogs usually bite somebody who is a relative or a friend or a neighbor,” said the Los Angeles attorney, who represents dog-bite victims full-time, including many Bay Area clients. “This gets worse around the holidays.”

That’s because there are more people around. More food. More children pulling tails. And all that leads to dog bite injuries, from minor to tragic.

“The kids are running through the house, and it’s a time when dogs become very anxious and may become very territorial,” said Phillips, a frequent guest on television news programs, including NBC’s “Today Show,” which dubbed him “the dog-bite king.”

“Dogs don’t know it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Phillips said. “They don’t know who is there, or why. And, meanwhile, the adults are paying less attention to the kids.”

What happens is inevitable, said Phillips, noting that the average five daily emails about dog bites he receives during the year – many from potential clients – “doubles or triples” from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. The Fourth of July generates a lot of business as well.

Some Bay Area animal experts agreed that holiday scenarios often set the stage for attacks.

“We do get a lot of potential hazardous situations around the holidays – with large groups of people coming into the home, and dogs not being familiar with them,” said Julie St. Gregory, spokeswoman for the city of San Jose’s Animal Care Center, on Monterey Road. “And if they’re not familiar with people, they tend to get very shy and very skittish. So people really have to work around the animal’s comfort level.”

St. Gregory said dog owners know the tell-tale signs when their pets are feeling scared and overwhelmed – and start “shutting down”: Their tails are tucked between their legs. Their ears are extremely pinned back. They start crouching or slinking.

“So we recommend removing the dog from the situations and allowing the animal to go somewhere they consider a safety zone” – like a crate or quiet room, where the pet can “decompress,” St. Gregory said.

At Oakland Animal Services, Kelly Miott, a volunteer program specialist, echoed St. Gregory’s advice if a dog owner is expecting a lot of guests.

“We encourage them to secure their pets in a separate room with their bed, favorite toys and some soft music to help them feel more calm and safe,” Miott said.

A few Bing Crosby albums perhaps?


Children and parents should follow these simple tips when supervising their child’s interactions with a dog, according to Kelly Miott, a volunteer program specialist with Oakland Animal Services:

* Don’t go near or play with the dog’s food bowl or toys.

* Don’t disturb a dog that is trying to sleep. Especially with a full house, dogs need a safe location where they can be away from people.

* Don’t allow children to climb or step on dogs, or pull their ears or tails. (In general, Miott said, dogs dislike being hugged, even by family members.)