By Sandra Harbison
“Nothing is more seemingly innocent than a child and a dog,” says Dr. Michael Sims, professor with the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. “Yet before you can blink, that can go from something cute and inspiring to a tragedy that can change a child’s life forever. Dog bites occur every 40 seconds, and many of them are preventable.”
Every year in the U.S. approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates almost 800,000 of those bites are serious enough to require medical attention and half of them are to children under 18. Injury rates are highest among children 5-9 years of age.
“Of the things that injure children, water accidents, athletic injuries, and dog bites are way up on the list,” explains Sims. Dog bites can also carry a tremendous price tag. A State Farm Insurance spokesperson has indicated the total claims cost of dog bites is about $2 billion annually. To reduce the number of dog bites, Sims helped create a dog bite prevention program for the college.
In past years, CVM offered the class for children each spring, but this year volunteers with the college’s Human Animal Bond in Tennessee started taking the program into classrooms they regularly visit with their dogs. “In one visit, they can educate more kids than we could with a class held at the college and with less expense,” says Sims.
The lessons are built around RUFUS, a rather slow, approachable spokesdog who has never met a bowl of dog food he didn’t like. Even the letters in his name represent lessons for kids: Respect, Understanding dogs, Friendly dogs, Unfriendly dogs, and Staying away from some dogs. The key is to keep the message simple, non-threatening, and fun to learn. Kids, naturally drawn to RUFUS, are taught how to behave around dogs in various situations.
The college is creating a complete package to approach the problem on several levels. A dynamic Web site offers a section with games and activities for kids, as well as a section for adults. Brochures and a DVD have been produced, too. Initially, the goal is to put a DVD in the hands of every first grader in Knox County, one of the counties in Tennessee with a high incidence of dog bites. The college is also creating a teacher’s packet. The program is scalable and geographically independent, and veterinarians and pediatricians can also use the information in their waiting rooms or for public presentations.
Rufus’ Top Four Rules
Remember what Rufus says…“Always use good manners around dogs.”
Rule #1 Never go up to or try to pet a strange dog without the owner’s permission.
Rule #2 Never run from a strange dog. Walk slowly away and don’t stare at the dog.
Rule #3 If you are on the ground and a strange dog comes near you, be like a log.
Rule #4 If you are standing up and a strange dog comes near, stand still like a tree.