The report shows that 34 Texas dog bite fatalities were recorded during this period, more dog bite-related deaths than any other state. Impediments to reduce these deaths include the One Bite rule and the 1991 statewide measure that prohibits breed-specific laws.
Austin, TX - In just over the last 8-years, 34 Texans were killed by dogs. Pit bulls were responsible for 76% of the total recorded deaths. The second most lethal dog breed, rottweilers, accounted for 15%. Pit bulls figure more prominently in Texas statistics then they do nationally (60%) in roughly the same period. This may be due to the state's exhaustive history with dogfighting and the 1991 statewide law that prohibits municipalities from regulating specific dog breeds.
Texas is also a One Bite state. Victims of dog attacks must prove the owner knew or should have known of the dangerous or vicious propensities of the dog in order to prevail in a civil lawsuit. This same burden of proof applies to the criminal statue, Lillian's Law, which only affects loose dog attacks (off owner property attacks). Since the 2007 passage of Lillian's Law, only one set of dog owners, whose animals viciously attacked and killed a person, has been convicted under it.1
Texas Dog Bite Fatality Statistics
January 1, 2005 to February 17, 2013
- 34 Texas dog bite fatalities were recorded during this period, more fatalities than any other state.2 Pit bulls contributed to 76% (26) of
- Combined, pit bulls (26) and rottweilers (5), the second most lethal dog breed, accounted for 91% (31) of the total recorded deaths.
- Texas data shows that 68% (23) of the victims were children ages 11-years and younger. Of this group, 52% (12) were ages 2 and younger.
- 35% (12) of all fatal dog attacks involved more than one dog; 6% (2) involved a "pack attack," involving 4 or more dogs.
- 18% (6) of the recorded deaths involved chained dogs; 100% of the chaining fatalities resulted in the death of a child 4-years old or younger.3
- Pit bulls 83% (5) and rottweilers 17% (1) comprised all chaining fatalities in Texas; each fatality occurred in a rural or semi-rural area.
- Family dogs comprised 53% (18) of all fatal dog maulings; 88% (30) of the attacks occurred on the dog owner's property.
- 18% (6) of the total recorded deaths resulted in criminal charges, just lower than the national average of 22% in nearly the same period.
- The combined years of 2006 and 2007 accounted for 38% (13) of all Texas dog bite fatalities in just over the 8-year period.
- Harris County had the most fatal dog attack occurrences (5) followed by Bexar County (4) and Montgomery County (3).4
Doctors Lead Call to Reform Texas Laws
Calls to reform state laws after years of horrific dog maulings have come from victims' families, elected officials,5 citizens and newspaper editorials. Texas doctors have long been forthright as well. The first Texas medical study, Pit Bull Attack: Case Report and Literature Review (Texas Medicine, 1988), was published several years before the 1991 statewide anti-BSL measure. Doctors at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston issued a prophetic warning:
An 83-year old man was attacked by two pit bulls. The injuries sustained included significant soft-tissue losses in both upper extremities. Such intensity of bites and the magnitude of soft-tissue trauma may be characteristic of a pit bull attack. The development and use of this breed of dog and
its current population in the United States suggest that further injuries and deaths will occur. - Pit Bull Attack: Case Report and Literature Review
Since the 1988 publication of this study, pit bulls have killed 245 Americans.
In the 8-year period leading up to the study (1981 to 1988), pit bulls inflicted 45 deaths nationally. In the last 8-years (2005 to 2012), pit bulls inflicted 151. This is over a 300% increase in national fatal pit bull maulings. The rate of Texas fatal pit bull maulings, however, has increased over 500% since the 1988 study. Of the 45 recorded deaths in the 1980s period, 13% (6) were Texas victims. Of the 151 deaths recorded in the last 8-year period, 21% (32) were Texas victims.
In 2011, doctors from University Hospital San Antonio went even further in their study, Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs (Annals of Surgery, 2011). The study's findings conclude the following about pit bulls: "Attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. Strict regulation of pit bulls may substantially reduce the US mortality rates related to dog bites."
Texas, the state that leads the nation in dog bite fatalities, is a “one bite” state that prohibits breed-specific laws … The unacceptable actuarial risk associated with certain breeds of dogs (specifically, pit bulls) must be addressed … Individual municipalities need the power to enact ordinances that can protect their citizens from this risk. If they are to obtain such power, the issue must be addressed at the local, county, and state legislative levels. - Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs
The study emphasizes that Texas is a One Bite state that also prohibits breed-specific laws. Furthermore, these three aspects may never have been placed into a single sentence so succinctly before. 1.) Texas leads the nation in dog bite fatalities 2.) Texas is a One Bite state and 3.) Texas prohibits breed-specific laws. The call to reform Texas laws by the San Antonio doctors also addresses the necessary legislative levels that must be involved: local, county and state.
Impediments to Achieving Reform
- The One Bite rule, which omits civil liability for the dog's first bite (or first mauling, maiming or death). This liability standard was established in England in the 1600s and has no place in modern America.
- The 1991 anti-BSL measure, which prohibits municipalities facing a breed-specific problem from directly responding to it. The only benefactors of the law are breeders and owners of dangerous dog breeds.
- The cultural acceptance, primarily in rural and semi-rural areas, of keeping dangerous dog breeds chained and unsupervised in an accessible yard and the acceptance of the mortality of children that naturally ensues.
A Closer Look: Deaths by Chained Dogs
DogsBite.org began reviewing Texas fatal dog attack data after a second Texas toddler was killed by a neighbor's chained pit bull in under a 1-month period this year. Last year in the U.S., chained dogs killed two individuals. In the first 47 days of 2013, Texas matched this national statistic. Texas data shows that pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 100% of the chaining deaths. Each fatality involved a child 4-years old or younger and occurred in a rural or semi-rural area.
On January 19, 4-year old Christian Gormanous of Montgomery County climbed over a 4-foot chain link fence into his neighbor's yard. A chained pit bull on the other side immediately attacked him. On February 16, 2-year old Isaiah Aguilar of Sabinal was killed after getting too close to his neighbor's chained pit bull. According to Isaiah's family, there was a "huge hole" in the neighbor's fence and the pit bull had previously killed its own sire and attacked puppies from its own litter.
The death of 4-year old Kylar Johnson in 2012 in a small community outside of Victoria must also be mentioned. After an all night search for the boy carried out by multiple law enforcement teams, Kylar was discovered dead the next morning, killed by a resident's chained pit bull. The owner of the dog, Manuel Garcia, kept 10 chained pit bulls in his mostly-fenced backyard. While Kylar still managed to wander onto the property, he had little chance of ever leaving the property alive.
Chaining dangerous dog breeds and leaving them unsupervised in an accessible yard is a recipe for disaster. The very act of chaining these types of dogs is irresponsible and perpetuates additional negligence, such as accessible yards. Why build secure fencing if the dog is chained? Cheap economics is the only priority in the minds of these dog owners. The cultural acceptance of these attitudes in many parts of Texas ensures that more children will lose their lives.
Progressive Texas Municipalities
Despite the two most significant road blocks to reforming Texas laws -- the One Bite rule and anti-BSL measure -- a handful of municipalities have enacted proactive policies in the past few years. In each case, the policies are different, reflecting the diversity of municipalities and their need to craft policies without state imposed limitations. All three initiatives, however, share the following in common: preventing new attacks and holding dog owners more responsible.
Fort Worth, Texas
In January 2009, one week after the fatal mauling of 3-year old Brooklynn Millburn by a neighbor's rottweiler, Fort Worth Animal Control underwent a door-to-door sweep citing non-compliant dog owners. In just 4-days, 800 citations were issued. Code officers said they intended to knock on doors in every city neighborhood in a 90-day period. By July, the Code Compliance Administration had prepared and presented a revised animal control ordinance to city council.
The ordinance created a uniform fencing requirement for all dogs and secure 6-foot fencing for "aggressive" dogs -- animals that make repeated attempts to climb, dig or chew through fencing in order to attack or harass a person or a pet. Thus, citizens no longer need to "wait to be attacked" in these situations before meaningful steps can be taken. The ordinance also encourages sterilization (intact pet permit) and allows for the seizure of any dog tethered to a fixed object.
In 2010, after years of pit bulls leading bite statistics and being caught at large, Garland created a departmental directive requiring 6-foot fencing for pit bulls. As stated in the directive, its purpose is to provide "uniform enforcement" of its existing ordinance that requires enclosures for all dogs to be properly maintained to prevent the animal from escaping. The directive then clarifies the type of enclosures necessary to "adequately maintain American Staffordshire Terriers, pit bull dogs, American Bull Dogs, or crossbreeds thereof within the enclosures."
The directive also states that specific enclosure requirements for pit bulls are necessary due to the "physical characteristics common to pit bull dogs that provide them with the capability to escape confinement from enclosures not meeting the following standards." Pit bull owners that registered their dog prior to the August 1, 2010 directive are exempt. Examples of acceptable and unacceptable enclosures for pit bulls are located on the city's website.
San Antonio, Texas
In 2011, San Antonio created a special court that hears all canine related crimes, including dog bites, strays, the mistreatment of animals and irresponsible dog owners (failure to vaccinate, license and more). The most important aspect for dog bite victims is that their case now only appears before a judge that has a deeper understanding of the issue. For instance, the seriousness of dog bite injuries and the common excuses recited by irresponsible dog owners.
In 2012, San Antonio went even further by deploying "one of the most proactive approaches in the state to support dog bite victims," according to San Antonio Express-News. The new program specifically tackles the process of a Dangerous Dog or an Aggressive Dog investigation by making it more efficient and favorable to dog bite victims. The process is outlined in the proposed Dangerous Dog Revision Process that was passed by city council members in October 2011.6
National statistics from 2005 to 2012 show that pit bulls killed 151 Americans and accounted for 60% of the total recorded dog bite-related fatalities. In Texas, this percentage is even higher. In roughly the same period, pit bulls accounted for 76% of the total recorded deaths. The rate of pit bull fatalities in Texas is also accelerating. Since the 1988 medical report was published in Texas Medicine, the rate of fatal attacks inflicted by pit bulls in Texas has increased over 500%.
There are two impediments to reduce these deaths: Texas is a One Bite state that also prohibits breed-specific laws. Both obstacles can and should be eliminated through state legislative means. The cultural tolerance in many rural and semi-rural areas of leaving dangerous dog breeds chained and unsupervised in an accessible yard is another barrier that must be overcome. Secure fencing and anti-tethering ordinances can and should be enacted on local or county levels.
There is a growing will amongst Texas municipalities to reform animal control policies to better protect human welfare and safety. This report calls out three cities that have enacted progressive policies to prevent new attacks and to hold dog owners more responsible. There is also a growing will to prosecute dog owners under Lillan's Law, though the criminal law is still largely underutilized. DogsBite.org hopes this growing will outpaces the growth of the problem itself.
Epilogue: Fatal Dog Mauling Victims
2005 - Sandra Sanchez, 32-years old (Harris County, TX)
2005 - Roberto Aguilera, 64-years old (Bexar County, TX)
2005 - Lillian Stiles, 76-years old (Thorndale, TX)
2006 - Ashton Scott, 11-months old (Childress, TX)
2006 - Gemma Carlos, 2-years old (Horizon City, TX)
2006 - Mariah Puga, 3-years old (Hargill, TX)
2006 - Frank Baber, 49-years old (Spur, TX)
2006 - David "Ted" McCurry, 41-years old (Willis, TX)
2006 - Pedro Rios, 4-years old (Pasadena, TX)
2007 - Amber Jones, 10-years old (San Antonio, TX)
2007 - Pamela Rushing, 50-years old (Friendswood, TX)
2007 - Carolina Sotelo, 2-years old (Combine, TX)
2007 - Celestino Rangel, 90-years old (San Antonio, TX)
2007 - Magdelena Silva, 95-years old (El Paso, TX)
2007 - Scott Warren, 6-years old (Dallas, TX)
2007 - Seth Lovitt, 11-years old (Killeen, TX)
2008 - Tanner Monk, 7-years old (Breckenridge, TX)
2008 - Pablo Lopez (Hernandez), 5-years old (Weslaco, TX)
2009 - Brooklynn Milburn, 3-years old (Fort Worth, TX)
2009 - Tyson Miller, 2-years old (Luling, TX)
2009 - Izaiah Gregory Cox, 7-months old (San Antonio, TX)
2009 - Barbara Chambers, 59-years old (Garland, TX)
2009 - Justin Clinton, 10-years old (Leverett's Chapel, TX)
2010 - Kaden Muckleroy, 2-years old (Henderson, TX)
2010 - Jeannette Vaughn, 3-months old (Harris County, TX)
2011 - Brayden McCollen, 2-weeks old (Cypress, TX)
2011 - Donna Conrad, 71-years old (Valley View, TX)
2011 - Mya Maeda, 11-days old (Amarillo, TX)
2011 - Edna Dyson, 71-years old (Houston, TX)
2012 - Jace Valdez, 16 months old (Magnolia, TX)
2012 - Kylar Johnson, 4-years old (Victoria County, TX)
2012 - Rayden Bruce, 3-months old (Burleson, TX)
2013 - Christian Gormanous, 4-years old (Montgomery County, TX)
2013 - Isaiah Aguilar, 2-years old (Sabinal, TX)
2California followed with 29 dog bite fatalities and Georgia with 16 during the same period.
3DogsBite.org tracks deaths by chained dogs when the animal is chained during the attack. This category likely should be expanded to include a chained dog that breaks free from restraint and immediately attacks causing death, such as the case of Kaden Muckleroy in Henderson, Texas.
4Technically, Dallas County also had three fatal occurrences, if one includes a fatality that occurred in Combine. The small City of Combine lies in both Dallas County and Kaufman County.
5Senator Rodney Ellis (Harris County) is part of this 2007 article. In 1991, Ellis sponsored the statewide anti-BSL measure and helped ensure its passage. Nearly 15 years later, in 2005, Ellis backtracked by sponsoring SB 1111 that would allow counties over the size of 1.9 million (Harris, Bexar, etc.) to enact breed-specific laws. Recall that Ellis' constituency, Harris County, has the most fatal dog attacks in Texas.
6Three people were killed by pit bulls in San Antonio from 2007 to 2009. These deaths not only moved San Antonio doctors to undertake a medical injury and mortality study, but moved city officials to create policies favorable to dog bite victims.
05/21/11: Texas Doctors Produce Study: Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs
01/09/08: Lillian's Law - Texas State Dangerous Dog Law
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