A recent dog-related fatality has many wondering “What happened?”
On Thursday, Tracy Garcia, 52, was attacked by a group of seven dogs, reported to be dachshund mixes under 40 pounds, in Ardmore, Oklahoma. This incident, which occurred new Garcia’s home, resulted in the woman’s death.
Though dachshunds are often perceived as harmless and even ‘goofy’ canines, reputation doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to dog-related fatalities.
“Just like people, you judge dogs on their behavior, not on how they look,” Ledy VanKavage, the senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest no-kill animal society tells PEOPLE.
“That saying don’t judge a book by its cover applies to both dogs and people.”
Instead of using breed or size as a guide to determine the likelihood of a dog attack, VanKavage, who is familiar with dog attacks through her legal work, suggests observing the canine’s behavior and how the animal is treated by its owner.
The lawyer pointed to the fact that the dogs involved were allowed to roam free and were allegedly covered in fleas and ticks, a sign of possible neglect, as factors that irresponsible ownership may have played a role.
While dog-related fatalities are extremely rare, in VanKavage’s experience with dog attack cases the canines involved “have not been well cared for.”
“We like to focus on the behavior of the owner,” she says on what she sees as the main factor behind these tragic incidents.
Research agrees with VanKavage. In veterinarian Gary J. Patronek’s study “Co-occurrence of Potentially Preventable Factors in 256 Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in the United States,” 256 fatal dog attacks were examined for co-occurrent factors.
The study found that in 87% of cases nobody was present, such as the owner, to intervene in the attack. Over 84% of the incidents involved a dog that an owner had failed to neuter, and 76% of the fatalities involved a canine that was isolated from human interactions and not socialized. The study also found that while much of the media coverage on dog related fatalities focused on the involved canine’s breed, the breed of the dog in the attacks could often not be determined.
It is factors like these which make VanKavage confident preventing dog fatalities starts with the owner and has encouraged her to fight for the enactment of reckless owner laws, state laws that prohibit individuals who have previously neglected, abused or mishandled a pet from owning another pet for a certain number of years.
“Reckless owners should not be allowed to have dogs that can terrorize a neighborhood,” she summarizes.
Unfortunately, as a bystander, you cannot control the actions of a neglectful owner. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are faced with an aggressive dog, or pack of dogs, VanKavage suggests doing anything you can to scare and distract the animal including yelling, grabbing branches and nearby objects to protect yourself and creating a barrier between yourself and the dog.