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Local experts give advice when man's best friend bites back

The ramifications when Fido decides to bite back could be costly, to one's health and pocket book.

State Farm Insurance took 47 dog bite claims last year in Washington state, at a total cost of $1.7 million.

At a cost of nearly $2 million, professionals say this type of injury is completely preventable.

Brad Hilliard of State Farm Insurance says, "All 47 claims from 2011 represent both physical and emotional damage to a victim, and reminds us that any dog can bite in certain circumstances."

Mabton Police Chief Rick Gutierrez says the city has seen a number of dog bite incidents in the past few months. He says when an animal bites, an officer is dispatched to the scene to investigate the incident and locate the owner.

State Farm nationally paid more than $109 million as a result of the nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2011, insurers across the country paid nearly $479 million in dog bite claims. Each year, almost five million people are bitten or attacked by dogs.

Just last week Mabton officers cited the first person under the city's new dangerous animal ordinances, Gutierrez said. But most of all, he says these kinds of incidents can be prevented by responsible pet owners and area citizens keeping on the lookout.

"The (pet) owners need to take responsibility and properly restrain or muzzle the animal, depending on the breed, to avoid an accidental bite," he said.

Gutierrez says the most common incident occurs because pet owners do not properly display signage, warning visitors of dogs in the yard.

"Delivery people or service employees come to properties and they don't see the animal," he added.

He says, though pet owners won't always take the necessary precautions, visitors can take extra care, and keep their eyes peeled for signs of an animal on the property.

"Looking for things like a dog chain, water bowl or droppings in the yard are good indicators that the residence has dogs on the property," he said.

In addition, Gutierrez says if the visitor isn't sure of the surroundings, they can always honk the horn of their vehicle to get the attention of the resident they are trying to reach.

But once Fido does attack, area medical personnel are on standby, ready to help.

Both Gutierrez and Sunnyside Community Hospital agree most dog bite incidents aren't extremely severe. But that doesn't mean the emotional trauma isn't a hassle in itself.

Emergency room specialists at the local hospital say a wound is treated almost like any other.

"The wounds are cleansed and sutured if applicable, and are treated with an antibiotic ointment," according to a statement released by hospital CEO John Gallagher.

"The patient receives a tetanus injection if it has been over five years since they had one. We also request the patient complete the dog bite reporting form that gets faxed to the police department for monitoring purposes of the dog."

Gallagher said the local emergency room also sees minor injuries sustained by dog bites and most do not even require stitches.

But the message is simple, area and national experts agree, owners must take responsibility.

Gutierrez says once a report is made and the victim chooses to prosecute, the dog is impounded and the owner is cited. Each city's laws vary on the amount and leniency towards these types of incidents. Experts urge pet owners to be familiar with their city's animal ordinances, and to obtain proper permits and signage.

Gutierrez also says citizens can attempt to avoid becoming a victim by remembering not to antagonize the animal.

Gutierrez says citizens who are concerned with possible dog-biting incidents are urged to call the police department.

"We will always come out and check out the situation," he added.

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