Coronavirus restrictions lead to increase in dog bites

Coronavirus restrictions lead to increase in dog bites

(Steve Griffin, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Apparently, some dogs do miss their alone time.

Animal shelters across the state have seen adoption rates soar since restrictions due to the coronavirus went into place in March, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been empty. The Humane Society of Utah said it has seen an increase of dogs in bite quarantine at shelters, though officials there didn't have an exact number of bites or the percentage of increase in bites.

“Every time a dog bites, even if their vaccine record is known, they have to be held for 10 days,” said Rachel Heatley, advocacy director for the Humane Society of Utah.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to stressful situations for many citizens. It’s a different way of life for many, as they have had to learn to cope with schools being closed, working from home, and trying to be socially distant from each other. It’s a new way of living — and a new one for animals, too.

The beloved Rovers and Maxes of the world aren’t immune to the stresses of the pandemic.

“One of the issues is that children and adults, for that matter, are home more,” Heatley said. “Obviously, we all are. As a result, there’s an increase in stress for the animals trying to cope.”

While more time at home has meant more interactions with pets, naturally increasing the chances of a bite, off-leash walking has also played a role in there being more dog bites.

“While exercising your animals is excellent for their physical and mental health, it is imperative that people leash their dogs everywhere except designated off-leash dog parks,” Heatley said. “Off-leash dogs are a huge source of problems, including bites.”

So what can dog owners do to make sure they aren’t away from their pet for 10 days?

Heatley said early socialization is key for puppies, both for the animal and for young kids. She also said to avoid antiquated dominant training methods and give the animal positive reinforcement. It’s also critical to simply respect and get to know your pet.

“It's also important to have your children respect an animal's space and, for that matter, adults to respect an animal's space,” Heatley said. “And learn to kind of pick up on their body language — when they're licking their lips, when their ears are tucked back — and just knowing when they're uncomfortable, and basically just avoiding the conflict.”

And with animals being adopted at a faster-than-usual pace, that advice is especially important for new dog owners.

“When we would have dogs put up on our website (before the COVID-19 pandemic), they may be adopted, on average, within four days. Now … we’re finding that dogs are being adopted on average (within) two days,” Human Society of Utah Communications Director Deann Shepherd told KSL NewsRadio earlier this month.

The reason why dogs are quarantined after a bite is to avoid rabies testing for the animal, something that would kill the dog, and to avoid a painful rabies treatment for the human.

“If you don't do the quarantines, and there's a question as to whether or not the animal may have rabies, the animal actually has to be decapitated and the head needs to be sent off for testing,” Heatley said. “So that's why the bite quarantine is really important, is to show that there are no symptoms.”

The quarantines can be done at the owner’s home; but if the bite occurs in the home, a lot of times the family prefers that the bite quarantine is done at a shelter, Heatley said.

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