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Dog bites on rise in county

February 28, 2014

mqcl0y-b781145633z.120130722100510000gi71evcu2.2SAN CLEMENTE – Within seconds of the two dogs racing toward him on the beach trail, Tim Frawley was fighting to save the life of Charlie, his golden retriever.

Clamping their jaws on each end of 9-year-old Charlie, the two dogs began to rip the retriever apart. The aggressors had escaped from their home on West Escalones and raced along the San Clemente Coastal Trail until they reached Frawley and Charlie.

“My daughter was screaming, ‘They’re killing him, they’re killing him,'” Frawley said. “I was feeling helpless, it seemed like there was nothing we could do. But I had to try. As long as I had a breath, I was going to fight.”

Ultimately Frawley, 58, hit one of the dogs hard enough to jar its jaw off Charlie’s already half eaten ear. Erin Frawley, 25, managed to get the other dog off the back of Charlie. Bystanders at the beach trail carried Charlie’s bloody body out of sight, while the Frawley duo sat on one of the exhausted runaway dogs.

Charlie survived after six hours of surgery. The two dogs that attacked were quarantined and impounded by Coastal Animal Services Authority, held on a 10-day rabies quarantine and subsequently declared ‘extremely dangerous’ by CASA officials. They are now back living with their owners, said Jennifer Stinette, a supervisor with the CASA shelter that serves the cities of San Clemente and Dana Point. The designation means the owners must agree to extraordinary restrictions including use of muzzles, enclosures and carrying insurance.

Frawley’s experience is one of at least six dog attacks in the last nine weeks in Orange County that mirror a growing national uptick in the number of dog bites. Dog bites peak during the summer months, according to county and national data. The Center for Disease Control reports that dog bites are up nearly 90 percent in the last 16 years nationwide and that 4.5 million people each year are bitten. Twenty percent require hospitalization.

In May, the American Veterinary Medical Association promoted National Dog Bite Awareness Week as a way to encourage responsible dog ownership and behavior around dogs.

Countywide, there were 2,225 reported dog bites, according to OC Animal Care. In 2011, there were 2,281 dog bites.

In 2012, the agency looked into 1,058 dog bites within their jurisdiction. The agency oversees 17 Orange County cities and unincorporated areas. In 2012, 264 vicious and potentially dangerous dogs were investigated. Sixty-six dog owners chose to euthanize their pets before the investigations were completed, said Ryan Drabek, director at OC Animal Care. Five dogs were deemed vicious and ordered for destruction by OC Animal Care last year.

“The key thing we look for is was the incident provoked, did the dog just run out of the property and attack another dog on a leash or a person?” Drabek said. “If we get a report on a bite to a person but the person was trying to break up a fight between two dogs that dog probably wouldn’t be declared. Many people don’t realize the types of potential incidents.”

In June a Labrador pit bull-mix bit a 7-year-old boy in the face at Irvine Regional Park. The boy was taken to the trauma unit at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. OC Animal Care launched an investigation to see if the dog named Elvis met the definition of potentially dangerous or vicious dog. The dog’s owner chose to euthanize the 2-year-old dog.

In May Kenny Schoen still remembers lying on the sidewalk trying to pry a pit bull’s jaw off his son’s golden retriever. The attack in Lake Forest came without warning. Schoen, 74, knew neighbors had concerns about the dogs at that house but he wasn’t worried about them barking from behind a fence.

“We were on the sidewalk when all of a sudden they busted out and went after us,” Schoen said. “I got knocked over and the two dogs locked on Leo. The owner was hollering at me to ‘grab one of his dogs’ tail.’ I was trying to get one of the dog’s jaw loose. They were a vicious couple pair of dogs. I don’t know why dogs like that are in a neighborhood.”

Animal experts agree dog attacks are not breed specific. Pit bulls, Rottweiler’s and other large muscle dogs often get a bad rap because when they attack they have the tools to do damage, Drabek said.

Still, there are 230 dogs countywide that have been declared potentially dangerous, extremely dangerous and vicious by animal control agencies. About 183 dogs in OC Animal Care’s jurisdiction are classified as potentially dangerous or vicious and remain with their owners.

Most agencies have similar restrictions which require the animals to live in enclosed runs that are locked giving dogs no chance to dig or jump out. Dogs must be muzzled when out on a walk. Owners have to carry high liability insurances, pay hundreds of dollars in an annual permit and post a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign at their home. They are also subject to regular unannounced visits by county or city animal control officers each year. OC Animal Care requires owners to have $100,000 liability insurance. Some of the city agencies require even higher insurance policies which are often hard to come by said Joy Falk, senior animal control officer in Laguna Beach.

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

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