Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Introducing Pets to New Babies

Introducing Pets to New Babies
Posted by Victoria Stilwell

It seems like every few weeks, a fresh news story about a family pet
seriously injuring or killing a baby hits the airwaves. And every time, we all
say and hear the same well-meaning and accurate but tired talking points about
how devastating it is, how it could have and should have been avoided, who to
blame, who not to blame and what to do about the problem. The general theme is
that the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents and/or dog owners, not
the children. That any breed of dog can bite, and any breed of dog can be a
good family pet. That parents should never leave their kids alone with any
animals unsupervised. That government should focus on penalizing irresponsible
dog owners, not certain breeds of dogs.

And I agree with all of that. I've said much of it myself in interviews on
national press many times. And yet still, these tragic incidents keep
happening. And that's even not to mention the millions of dog bites that go
unreported and don't require professional medical attention. In the US alone, there
are over 4.5 million reported dog bites each year, 800,000 of which require a
trip to the doctor.

What we're doing is not working.

That's why I've dedicated myself and my company's resources to try and make
a difference and reduce the number of dog bites that happen each year. I'm in
the process of setting up the first ever Dog Bite Prevention Task Force, which
is charged with determining what the root causes of the problem are and how to
effectively address them once and for all. Comprised of trainers, behaviorists,
legal professionals, legislators, animal control specialists, pediatric
surgeons and reconstructive surgeons around the country, we will be bringing
together the best and brightest minds to figure out how and why dog bites
happen, what precedes them, how they are investigated, who should be held
responsible, and most importantly, how to stop them from occurring.

For example, by digging into the data from some of the most high profile
cases involving canine homicides (the term used when a dog kills a human),
we've found one fascinating common thread in almost all scenarios: one
component of the scenario is unnatural. That means that in every case, either
the child is being looked after by grandparents, the dog is being house-sat by
an uncle, the whole family (including the dog) are visiting relatives in a
different house, etc. There's almost always one part of the equation that is
not the everyday norm for either the dog, child, caregivers, or environment.
This important revelation can help us determine how to most effectively educate
dog owners and parents of children about what to look out for in an otherwise
seemingly normal situation. If we can stop just one beautiful little child from
losing his or her life, it will be worth it.

But my goal is even larger than that.

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with the lovely Anderson family. Just over a year ago, they
lost their beautiful daughter, Ashlynn, in a fatal dog attack. I met the family
when I was in Oregon,
and I was struck by their determination to do everything they can to help other
families avoid a similar tragedy. They have set up a non-profit organization
Dads Against
Dangerous Dogs
, and though they lost their little treasure to dogs, one of
the most remarkable things about them is that they have not jumped to the most
obvious target. They do not blame any specific breed for Ashlynn's death,
rather they are focused on increasing awareness about the fact that any dog -
any breed, any size, etc - can be a danger to little ones if not properly

Obviously, education is the key to stopping this from happening. We all know
that. But we've known it for a long time, and yet the message isn't effective
enough to make a significant difference. As a society, we must figure out a
more successful way to get the message across.

That's why I've decided to support the American Humane
safe handling initiative - Pet Meets Baby. This is an
easy-to-read, comprehensive free booklet that can help dog owners and parents
of children without pets by making them aware of how to safely and effectively
introduce pets to new babies and vice versa. By widely distributing this
information in maternity wards, pediatricians' offices and beyond, we hope that
this will make a difference. It's important to note that even parents of
children without pets should read Pet Meets Baby, since all kids end up
interacting with animals at some point, whether at grandma's house, on
playdates or walking in the park.

I've donated some great prizes (Positively t-shirts, signed books, It's
Me or the Dog
DVDs, etc) to a free contest anyone can enter by providing
some brief feedback about Pet Meets Baby. Plus, one lucky winner will win the
grand prize - a 30 minute phone consultation with me where we can talk about
your dog and anything else you can think of!

Enter the contest by visiting the Pet Meets Baby homepage! Contest is closed.

More info about the Pet Meets Baby contest.

Read my Safety Guide for Children and Dogs.

No child and animal should ever be left unattended!