Routt County dog bite numbers consistent, but considered high
During her 17 years working as an animal control officer in Routt County, Dawn Smith has seen 10 children bitten in the face by dogs.
“Almost every time it was a preventable bite, people not paying attention,” Smith said.
Dog bites reported within the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County remain “high” in numbers, including about one bite report per week in Steamboat, local animal control officers say. Many more bites to humans or other dogs go unreported.
“We haven’t seen a big increase in animal bites; it just remains high,” said Jennifer Good, animal control officer for the Steamboat Springs Police Department. “There were approximately just over 50 animal bites reported in 2020 and 2021 (in Steamboat and) 2022 is on track to possibly be higher this year.”
The county as a whole is in the same boat.
“We had 37 bites in 2020, 32 in 2021, and we’re on track to match or surpass that this year,” Smith said regarding Routt County statistics. “We get a lot of bites. It’s a constant thing for us.”
As an indicator of the importance of animal control issues, both the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Steamboat have two full-time animal control officers. The Town of Hayden has a community service officer who spends a lot of time on animal control issues, including dealing with about six to eight dog bites a year, Hayden Police Chief Greg Tuliszewski said.
- American Veterinarian Medical Association – avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/dog-bite-prevention
- ASPCA – aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-bite-prevention
In Routt County, one top reason people are bitten by dogs is owners do not secure their animals and then a passing runner, bicyclist or someone pushing a stroller is chased and bitten, Smith explained.
“So many county dog bites are dogs running off their property,” Smith said. “Dogs have very few means of communication, and biting is one of them. It’s our responsibility as humans to do what we can to not put our dogs in a situation where they feel they need to bite.”
Other common reasons humans are bitten by dogs include owners trying to break up a dog fight, or delivery drivers who want to deliver a package as close as possible. For example, reaching over to unlock a gate can be an invitation for a dog bite, Smith said.
Any domestic cat, dog or ferret that bites a human, meaning any pet’s teeth that breaks the skin of a human, is subject to a 10-day quarantine per Colorado law to guard against possible rabies transmission. A pet that bites a human and is overdue for rabies vaccinations must be quarantined in a professionally supervised facility such as an animal shelter, kennel or veterinarian office, Smith said.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, “Domestic dogs, cats or ferrets involved in a human bite must be quarantined for a 10-day observation period to eliminate the risk of rabies virus transmission. This period is determined from studies demonstrating rabies virus appears in the animal’s saliva as clinical symptoms of rabies appear.”
Although it does not happen often, putting a pet that is not up to date on vaccinations in a supervised shelter for quarantine “can be very contentious,” Smith said.
More commonly, local pets that bite humans are up-to-date on vaccinations, but still must be quarantined at home for 10 days. During that time, the animal cannot run loose or interact with other unvaccinated pets or any wildlife, alive or dead.
Cat bites are reported in Routt County too but are rare, Smith said. Some examples include when people try to remove a neighbor’s cat from their property or attempt to wrangle a stray cat into a pet crate, Smith said.
Local animal control officers ask adults and parents to train children to exercise caution and restraint around dogs and to keep kids and a dog that is eating separate. City animal officers can provide educational talks to school and youth groups.
Two local organizations offer discounted rates or funding for pet medical needs. The Animal Assistance League of Northwest Colorado accepts funding requests via website MyAnimalLeague.org, and The Routt County Humane Society’s Wellness Clinic
features a $15 Vaccination Clinic 12-2 p.m. the second Saturday of each month.
“It’s incredibly important to teach your children that not all dogs are going to behave the way their dog behaves, and a dog’s reaction to you can change based on their environment,” Smith advised.
Adults need to ask first before petting a dog and then proceed slowly. And never reach into a vehicle to pet a dog, Smith said.
Elaine Hicks, executive director at the Routt County Humane Society, reminded about the organization’s ongoing Yellow Dog Project educational campaign where dogs wearing a yellow ribbon need to be given space. The reasons for a yellow ribbon caution are represented by the word HEART, for health, elderly, anxiety, rehabilitation or in training.
Officers also urge owners to keep dogs leashed on walks to maintain more control of pets and thus reduce the possibility of bites. Owners should remain attentive to their pets’ behaviors in unfamiliar situations.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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