While pets are vital to many elderly folk for the companionship, security and quality of life they give, the elderly need to be sensibly cautious about dogs and the danger they present. Children are also at risk from dogs, even friendly dogs, and parents need to closely supervise and control the behaviour of children and dogs when they are together.
The recent case of a Charters Towers woman who died as a consequence of a dog fight grimly illustrates the problem. For elderly folk, the danger from dogs is not restricted to dogs unknown to them. More elderly folk are injured by the family dog. Dog attacks are an emotive issue. When man's best friend turns to man's worst enemy, many become upset. There is a litany of horrors on such matters.
Many will remember the case of Barbara Stringer in Toowoomba several years ago. She was killed by a dog described as a Pit Bull Terrier, although some doubt seems to exist about the breed of this dog. An 85-year-old Perth woman, Perina Chokolich, was killed by a pack of Rottweilers in June 1995 and in 1997 a New Zealand man was killed near the North Island town of Te Puke by a dog that was described as Pit Bull Terrier.
Children, and not necessarily young children either, are also at risk In April 1997 a 12-year-old boy was mauled to death by his brother's Bull Mastiff-Great Dane cross in an outer north-western Melbourne.
More elderly folk are injured by the family dog
Overseas there is a host of data too. One report states that in the United States of America, of 109 dog bite fatalities, 57% were of children less than 10 years of age. Pit Bull Terriers were the most commonly reported breed involved causing 24 deaths. They were followed by Rottweilers causing 16 deaths and the German Shepherd causing 10 deaths. In America, 18 people die per year consequent to dog attacks. However, America has a huge dog population compared with Australia. They have 52 million dogs compared with the four million we have here. Based on the American data, we can sadly expect one to two dog-attack fatalities per year in Australia.
The danger of dogs to elderly folk is real. Many people are caring for their elderly parents in their own home and, if there is a young, boisterous, dog in the family, problems are likely. If the elderly person involved is not in good health, the danger is worse and if the dog is at all aggressive, the danger becomes extreme.
Elderly folk who have diabetes, heart disease, arthritis or any mobility problem and those with reduced sight and hearing are at added risk of injury from dogs, both accidental and deliberate.
In one case report a family dog was causing problems. The dog was not truly vicious but had an unpleasant habit of circling the yard and 'nipping' the calf of his owners when they stood in the yard. It was a play-based behaviour - but an unacceptable one. While the middle age owners could cope by stepping out of the way, their elderly mother was not sprightly. She was also on anticoagulant medication for a heart condition and the injuries she received from the dog were dangerous.
In another case history, an elderly dog owner died mainly as a consequence of a dog fight. Two male boxers were involved. These dogs were incompatible and had to be kept apart. They accidentally got together one morning and the owner, who had a heart condition, suffered a cardiac arrest and passed on a short time after he successfully separated the dogs.
Accidents like this do happen.
If you are elderly and especially if your health is not top notch, be careful around dogs - any dogs. If your dog is accidentally injuring you with its behaviour by scratching you with its claws or by nipping, seek advice from a therapeutic dog trainer or dog behaviouralist.
If a dog fight occurs, unless you really know what you are doing, stay clear. The most friendly dog will bite its owner when it is in 'fight mode' and tragedy can result.
Sometimes hosing dogs will stop a fight, sometimes throwing a towel, sheet or blanket over the dogs will help or sometimes just turning away and walking off is the best you can do. The dogs may injure each other, but at least you will be safe.