Macro-Level Forces Report: How Covid Conditions Impacted 2020 U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Capture Rate

Dog Bite Fatalities Surged in 2020; Nonprofit's Capture Rate Declined

macro-level forces 2020 - In June of 2021, we published the discussion notes for 2020 U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Statistics. We cautioned then that media reports during the 2020 Covid year fell by 45%. In response, we sent out 30 FOIAs and uncovered 6 unreported deaths. This, however, did not overcome the macro-level forces caused by Covid. CDC Wonder underlying cause of death (UCD) data shows there were 62 fatal dog attacks in 2020. Our nonprofit only recorded 47 deaths.

62 fatal dog attacks in a single year is the most ever recorded in CDC data. This is a 29% increase from 2019 and a 77% increase from 2018.

Previous to 2020, during the 15-year period of 2005 to 2019, the largest deficit of unreported deaths was 4 each for the years of 2005 and 2010. During the 2020 year of Covid conditions, there was a deficit of 15 unreported deaths. A regional break down of dog bite fatality victims in 2020 shows that the West and Midwest regions had the most unreported cases (13). The South had the lowest number of unreported cases (2) with 93% captured by the media and our nonprofit.

Possible factors causing the disparity of 15 unreported deaths include: stay-at-home orders, one-third of employed began working at home,1 a sharp reduction in media reports and a reduction of media releases from police. The increase in the number of deaths in 2020, may also be linked to Covid conditions. Some cities reported a 2-fold increase in dog bites during 2020. Pediatric hospitals in the US and UK reported a 3-fold increase in rates of ED visits due to dog bites.

The government directed stay-at-home orders and school closures increased child exposure to dogs, as well as adults. According to CDC data, 66% (41 of 62) of the victims in 2020 were ages 45-years and older. Our nonprofit captured 24 of these deaths, 58%. However, we already knew this age group was being underreported in the media. We discussed this disparity in the 2020 discussion notes (Comparing 15 Year Data Sets - Data and CDC Wonder Data)

macro-level forces 2020

U.S. dog bite fatalities during the 2020 pandemic crisis by Census region and age groups.

Characteristics of Unreported Fatal Dog Attacks (2005 to 2020)

We also discussed the characteristics of unreported fatal dog attacks, based upon 18 unreported deaths that we have uncovered through FOIAs over the last decade. The most likely unreported fatal dog attack from 2005 to 2020 is an adult ≥ 40 years old killed by a single or pair of family pit bulls in an urban area within a state that prohibits or limits breed-specific laws. 83% (15) of cases involved pit bulls, and of that 73% (11 of 15) involved a single or pair of family pit bulls attacking.

78% (14) of the total unreported fatal attacks involved family dogs killing a household member, and 78% of all victims were ≥ 40 years old.

Breaking down the CDC data set by state over the 16-year period also shows that several western states contribute to the most unreported deaths: Arizona, Colorado and Washington (26 deaths total). Arizona had the highest number of unreported deaths (11), which, in part, might be attributed to undetected fatal dog attacks on Indian reservations. Regionally, the West showed the highest number of unreported deaths, 30, followed by the Northeast with 12 unreported deaths.

Related materials:
Table: Dog Bite Fatalities by Age Group (2005) and Fatalities by Year
Table: Dog Bite Fatalities by State, Region and Age Group (2005-2020)


Macro-level forces simply mean macro social and economic forces beyond our control. Capturing small data numbers (40-50 dog bite fatalities per year) was difficult before Covid struck American soil. This hurdle became much higher during the 2020 Covid year, when the media was extremely focused on the pandemic crisis, followed by the general election. Furthermore, newsrooms cut over 16,000 jobs in 2020, the highest amount on record, and is described as the "2020 bloodbath."

It remains unclear why our nonprofit consistently records more dog bite fatalities in the 0-24 age group than CDC UCD data (275 v. 186 deaths) respectively. This was also true during the 2020 Covid year (18 v. 11 deaths) respectively. Due to miscoding errors and misreporting on death certificates, multiple studies say it is likely that CDC Wonder underreports the total number of deaths from dog attacks.2 But an 89 count difference in this age group appears significant.

It is also significant that three states (populations 5.7  to 7.7 million) comprised 87% (26 of 30) of unreported dog bite fatalities in the West.3

Finally, during the 15-year period of 2005 to 2019, the discrepancy between UCD data (519) and our nonprofit's data (522) was insignificant, even though a portion of our cases involve vicious attacks as a contributing cause of death. In a single year, 2020, the pandemic transformed that by creating a deficit of 15 victims dominated by the ≥ 45 age group. The UCD data over the same 15-year period shows that the majority of unreported fatal attacks also fall into this age group.

macro-level forces 2020

15-year period (2005-2019) CDC Wonder data compared to nonprofit data by age group.


During the 2020 pandemic year, there was a 45% reduction in dog bite fatality media reports, according to our citations. There was a surge in unreported fatal dog attacks, 15 deaths (21 deaths if no FOIAs had been pursued), and a surge in the total number of deaths, from the 5-year average (2015-2019) of 37 deaths to 62, a 68% rise. Victims ≥ 45 years old accounted for the majority of unreported fatal attacks and most of those attacks occurred in the Midwest and West.

Theoretically, there will be another significant deficit in 2021, the second Covid year. Those numbers have not yet been released by CDC.

By examining the characteristics of unreported fatal dog attacks, based upon 18 deaths we uncovered from 2005 to 2020, the most likely unreported fatal attack in our data is an adult ≥ 40 years old killed by a single or pair of family pit bulls. CDC data during this period shows that a large number of adults ≥ 45 years old killed by dogs are unreported in the media (104). Though breed data is unknown, one can assume that a fair number involve pit bulls and family dogs.

macro-level forces 2020

16-year period (2005-2020) CDC Wonder data compared to nonprofit data by year.

1Remote Work Before, During, and After the Pandemic, by Patrick Coate, Quarterly Economics Briefing–Q4 2020, January 25, 2021.
2Haskell MG, Langley RL, Animal-Encounter Fatalities, United States, 1999-2016: Cause of Death and Misreporting, Public Health Reports, 2020, Vol. 135(6) 831-841.
3U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division

Related articles:
06/01/21: 2020 U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Statistics - Discussion Notes
01/12/21: 2020 Fatal Dog Attack Breed Identification Photographs

2022 Dog Bite Fatality: Woman, 88, Dies of Injuries, Child Severely Injured, After Pair of Family Pit Bulls Attack

Golden Police Department press conference after a pair of pit bulls attacked two family members.

Police Press Release
Golden, CO - On September 14, a pair of pit bulls attacked a 12-year old boy and his grandmother at their home. The attack occurred in the 15700 block of West 1st Drive around 3:35 pm. Arriving officers found a "blood trail into the home" and observed both dogs attacking the woman in the backyard. Officers "acted decisively putting themselves between the animals and victim," Sergeant Ben Salentine said. Officers "used themselves as human shields" to rescue the woman, he said.

Police confirmed the grandmother died on September 18 from injuries sustained in the attack. The corner has identified her as Mary Gehring.

The 12-year old boy sustained bite injuries prior to the arrival of police, Salentine said during a press conference. He fled to a neighbor's home. The child was later flown to Children's Hospital. The woman was taken to St. Anthony hospital with critical injuries. Both dogs were taken into custody. One of the dogs was euthanized due to injuries it sustained at the scene; officers were forced to Tase the dogs and use "less-lethal" shotguns, but the tactics were "not effective."

Police said the dogs were "known to the two victims of the attack." One neighbor told CBS News Colorado the dogs lived at the home. The surviving pit bull is being housed at Foothills Animal Shelter. The owner of the dogs remains under investigation, police said. "I can confirm that the dogs belonged at the residence. But as far as the particular owners, everything’s under investigation," Salentine said last week. The dogs had no history of complaints, police said.

"I just want to give a little bit of information regarding an incident that occurred yesterday afternoon just after 3:30 in the afternoon in the in a location in the Southeast corner of our city. We had a call dispatch as an animal bite, which very quickly and rapidly evolved into an animal attack. Officers immediately responded to the scene -- a very chaotic scene. Followed a blood trail into the home. Observed through a backyard window to larger animals over an elderly female that was in the backyard. Our officers acted heroically quickly and decisively, putting themselves between the animals and the victim that was in critical condition in inside the backyard. Officers used themselves as human shields, while they were able to conduct a rescue operation, removing that elderly woman from the backyard into the kitchen, where she was immediately transported to a local area hospital. As this was all going on, there was also a child that was bitten prior to the officer's arrival. That child was at a neighbor's house. He was also treated immediately and transported to a local area hospital." - Sergeant Ben Salentine with the Golden Police Department, September 15, 2022 Press Conference

Multi-victim attack Golden, CO pit bulls Mary Gehring

Home where a pair of pit bulls brutally attacked two family members on September 14, 2022.

Related articles:
08/10/22: 2022 Dog Bite Fatality: Elderly Woman Found Dead After Pit Bull Attack in Las Vegas
07/28/22: 2022 Dog Bite Fatality: Family Pit Bull Mutilates, Kills Woman in Nassau County

Baseline reporting requirements:
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.

2022 Dog Bite Fatality: 32-Year Old Man Killed by 'Alligator' Pit Bull in Polk County, Tennessee

polk county alligator pit bull
Rusty Shane Burris, 32, was killed by an "alligator" pit bull in Polk County, Tennessee.

Pit Bull Kills Man
Polk County, TN - Over the weekend, a dog killed a man in Polk County, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. The fatal attack occurred early Sunday morning at a home on Swallows Drive in Old Fort. Deputies arrived at the scene just after 2:00 pm with EMS personnel. Deputies found 32-year old Rusty Shane Burris unconscious and unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Sheriff Steve Ross said the canine, a pit bull, was owned by the man's family.

Burris suffered severe injuries to both arms. The dog also had a history of aggression. "He was defending himself from the dog, and that's why he got so many bites on the arms," Sheriff Ross told WTVC. "The dog had been aggressive before, and it was on a cable, but at some point during the night it broke the cable and came after Mr. Burris," Ross said. The family secured the pit bull in a car after the attack. They asked for the dog to be euthanized, which a deputy did at the scene.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office said they found Burris behind the family's home, next to the fence line. Sheriff Ross said the dog bite fatality was a "first" for his agency. "We have the occasional dog bites, but this is a first for us, as far as someone actually dying from a dog bite. This was a very brutal attack," Ross said. The sheriff had hoped to hand the dog over to an agency for euthanasia, but none could take the animal. On scene euthanasia was the only safe option.

"Alligator" Pit Bull

WDEF reported the dog was an "alligator" pit bull. This presumably refers to CH Plumber's Alligator bloodline. Though, not to be confused with CH (Crenshaw's) Rodriguez' Gator bloodline. Both are serious fighting dog bloodlines in the south. However, many breeders falsely claim "Alligator" or "Gator" bloodlines. "Gator Pit Bull is a common name used by backyard breeders to boost their marketing appeal, as well as 'gator mouth pit bull,'" states

Back in 2017, the owner of two family pit bulls that killed a child in Georgia claimed one dog was a "Jeep Rascal and Gator Gotti. No mixing in that bloodline at all (sic)." We will not begin to explain how implausible that is or how full of marketing nonsense that is. But it seems to be common bragging rights among some pit bull owners in the south to claim to own a "Jeep" or "Alligator" or "Gator" from a famous fighting dog bloodline that such individuals are unlikely to have access to.

Adult Male Age Group

Over the 17-year period of 2005 to 2021, very few men in the 30 to 39 year-old age group have been victims of fatal dog attacks. In fact, there have only been 10 men, according to our records, within the approximate 621 total dog bite fatalities during this period. 80% of these 10 deaths involved pit bulls. Half of these attacks, 50%, involved the dog killing its owner or a household member. These rare fatal attacks of men in their 30s are disproportionately inflicted by pit bulls.

polk county alligator pit bull

A family member who lives at the same location as the victim shows a male pit bull on her Facebook page as recently as July. Pit bulls from earlier years are seen on her page as well.

map iconView the Google Map: Tennessee Fatal Pit Bull Maulings.

Related articles:
06/07/22: 2022 Dog Bite Fatality: Woman, 70, Killed by Pet Rottweilers in Tennessee
04/02/22: 2022 Dog Bite Fatality: Woman Killed by Personal Protection Dog in Tennessee

Baseline reporting requirements:
Law enforcement departments across the United States should release consistent "baseline" information to the media and the public after each fatal dog mauling, including these items.

Doctor Discusses Risk Factors for Bringing a Dog into Home and Dog Bite Injury Studies with Breed-Related Findings

Dr Fuhrman breed related findings
Dr. John Fuhrman discusses the risks of dog ownership and dog bite injury studies.

Discussion with Doctor
Prescott, AZ - In July, Dr. John Fuhrman of the Fuhrman Clinic published an informative post and video that discusses risk factors for families that are considering bringing a dog into their home; dog bite injury studies; and breed-related findings within those studies. Some of the medical studies discussed appear in our Level 1 trauma center table. Fuhrman also discusses studies pertaining to pit bull identification and references several high court rulings on the matter.

We encourage you to watch the entire video, which is 30 minutes in length. It is valuable to listen to a doctor discuss medical study findings in an informal, conversational manner. Such findings are not always easily interpretable to lay persons. Dr. Fuhrman emphasizes that children (50%, 1 in 2) are at a higher risk of sustaining a dog bite in their lifetime than adults (20%, 1 in 5) and that "most victims are involved in normal, non-provoking activities before the dog attacks."

About 70% of all dog attacks are from a dog known to the victim, he writes, not the proverbial stray. Most bites also occur inside or near the family's home, particularly bites and attacks to children. "Dog familiarity may confer a false sense of safety," states a 2015 pediatric dog bite injury study. "Unfortunately, familiarity may lead to injury," states a 2017 pediatric dog bite injury study. A 2018 pediatric study found that "parental presence was reported in 43.6% of cases."

"Infants are 4 times more likely to be bitten by a family dog. When infants are attacked, usually the baby is asleep. There is nothing less provocative than a sleeping baby, yet dogs attack them." -Dr. Fuhrman

Breed-Related Findings

What was almost "universally found in the 17 or so papers that I looked at," he states about his literature review, is that "when humans went to the emergency rooms, and when humans went to the operating room because they needed a surgery from a dog attack, and when humans died because of a dog attack, pit bull-type dogs were more responsible for those things than any other type of dog," he states. There were other breeds, but "pit bull was stand out number one."

Dr. Fuhrman then proceeds to quote breed-related findings from over a dozen scientific medical studies, some of which found that pit bulls inflict the highest prevalence of injuries and the highest severity of injuries, compared to other dog breeds. "Of the more than 8 different breeds identified, one-third were caused by pit bull terriers and resulted in the highest rate of consultation (94%) and had 5 times the relative rate of surgical intervention," states a 2015 dog bite injury study.

Pit Bull Identification Studies

Dr. Fuhrman next discusses key "Find the pit bull" studies and points out their flaws. The first one, (Hoffman, 2014), is based on 20 photographs. "No actual dogs were shown to the participants. Instead, one photo of each dog was shown. The photos were not standardized. They were taken at different angles and some do not include the dog’s whole body," he writes. Participants self-selected to take the survey for the study too. "Better to select participants randomly," he writes.

He notes that the second pit bull identification study, (Olson, 2015), coded the dog "pit bull-type" if results from the DNA test only showed 12.5% of the breed's composition. "I think this standard is too high," he writes. "If the dog is 1/8 pit bull by genetic testing, then the authors count that dog as a pit bull. I would not expect the staff to look at a dog that is 1/8 pit bull and identify it as pit bull." Yet, even with this 1/8 DNA standard, "most of the time staff agreed with each other," he writes.

Dr. Fuhrman also questions the conflict-of-interest statement in the Olson study, "None of the authors of this paper has a financial or personal relationship with other people or organizations that could inappropriately influence or bias the content of the paper." Yet, the study was funded by Maddie’s Fund. "I invite you to go to Maddie’s Fund’s website, search for 'pit bull,' and decide for yourself if the search results show any bias about pit bulls at Maddie’s Fund," he writes.

Even as a newbie into the area of pit bull identification studies, which often have "self-selecting" study participants, flawed study designs, use non-standardized 2-dimensional photographs, and often lack conflict-of-interest statements, Dr. Fuhrman is clear that something is amiss. Welcome to the world of "Find the pit bull" studies, where conflict-of-interest statements may be wholly omitted and the studies are funded, co-authored or both by pit bull advocacy in secrecy.

Case in point, Dr. Fuhrman was unaware that one study he cited, (Reese, 2020), was co-authored by Laura A. Reese, a pit bull advocate, who failed to disclose her conflicts of interest, "The authors have no conflict of interest in this project," states the study. Reese co-authored a policy paper in 2016, Pit Bulls, Perceptions, And Public Policy,1 laden with decades old pit bull propaganda, and wrote an editorial condemning breed bans after four pit bulls killed a boy in Detroit in 2015.

In Conclusion

Dr. Fuhrman concludes by summarizing risk factors for families that are considering bringing a dog into their home for the first time and what breed or type of dog that should be. As he states, the research suggests, even as secondary trends that, "It seems that female dogs are a lower risk for attacking" and, "It seems that dogs which are not chained up are a lower risk for attacking." What should be strongly emphasized, however, is that pit bulls are inflicting the most severe injuries.

"Thing that really should be underlined is that pit bulls are the number one dog for sending people to the emergency room. Sending people to the operating room. And, sending people to the morgue." - Dr. Fuhrman

Dr. Fuhrman also reminds parents deciding on whether to bring a dog into their home that there are many breeds to choose from. "I mean even if it is just the top ten offenders, you scratch those off the list, you are still left with over 200 breeds to choose from," he states. "So, knowing what you know now, along with all of the other information that you are going to use to make your decision. But knowing the medical literature statements on this, what breed would you choose?" he asks.

Lastly, we don't think Dr. Fuhrman studied the pit bull identification studies too deeply. He did not need to. His insights show that a scientific mind just scratching the surface of these studies can find a lot of flaws and false conclusions. We doubt he looked deeply into Maddie’s Fund either, who strives for a "no-kill nation now." But he quickly realized that the funding source for the Olson identification study, "made possible by support from Maddie’s Fund" was not neutral.2

identify a pit bull

"Pit bull dogs possess unique and readily identifiable physical and behavioral traits which are capable of recognition both by dog owners of ordinary intelligence and by enforcement personnel." - Ohio v. Anderson, 57 Ohio St. 3d 168 - Ohio: Supreme Court 1991

1Ironically, Reese's policy paper points readers to the online test, "Pick the Pit," which was created circa 2011 and is now defunct. These online quizzes, "Find the pit bull," were the first iteration of pit bull identification games using unstandardized and deceptive photos. These online quizzes then began being recreated in studies, where participants were recruited via convenience samples and/or individuals who self-selected to take the online survey.
2Dr. Julie Levy, who co-authored the pit bull identification study with Olson is a faculty member of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where the study was carried out. Maddie’s Fund did not just fund the Olson/Levy study, they established and underwrite the shelter medicine program. The Olson/Levy study was also part of a "bigger umbrella study," as noted in the study, involving a large Internet survey of 5922 self-identified "dog-experts" that were shown photographs of the same dogs used in the Olson/Levy study and asked to determine breed. That portion of the study was funded by the National Canine Research Council, a subsidiary of Animal Farm Foundation, both are primary members of the American pit bull lobby.

Related articles:
08/01/22: Level 1 Trauma Dog Bite Studies in All U.S. Geographical Regions: Pit Bulls Highest...
01/12/22: 2021 Fatal Dog Attack Breed Identification Photographs -
10/20/16: Back Story of the Montreal Pit Bull Ban, What the Vets Omitted and Cited...
08/31/15: Who Can Identify a Pit Bull? A Dog Owner of 'Ordinary Intelligence' Say the High Courts