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Going to the Dogs Going to the Dogs
by Jack Wellman
2009-09-05 09:13:28
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Dog attacks are on the rise. And generally, the rise is not due to domestic dog attacks where a dog bites a family member or neighbor. There is a rising menace growing in rural and suburban America. And not only in the States, but in fact it is becoming a global concern. The rising threat comes from wild packs of feral dogs. From the wheat fields of Kansas, to inside the St. Louis' city limits. Recently, a dog pack was blamed for the killings of a Georgia couple. This is not an isolated incident, but is becoming more frequent.
 
Wild packs of dogs are a reminder of the fragility of mankind's impact with canines. Pregnant female dogs are abandoned, domestic ones are neglected, others are dropped off in cities or in the countryside. Underlying this relationship between the species is a simple expectation. They eat or they kill. More often they randomly kill as was the case in a rural section of Eastern Kansas. A small pack of feral dogs are running loose in at least a two or three county area. These packs of wild dogs, if together long enough, begin inbreeding, which leads to a Heinz 57 or feral dog; short haired, medium build, stout dog that are as brave as the Alpha leader. When a group grows large enough, they become more bold, more aggressive and more dangerous.
 
For dog owners, they are so much a part of life that they are esteemed as valued family members would be. In some cases, dogs become substitutes for human families that are now absent. This relationship makes is easy to forget they are still animals with teeth and the ability to use them. But dogs, with a lack of an owner and steady meals, quickly begin to resemble their cousin coyotes. When enough wild dogs team up to form packs, they do so for hunting and protection purposes. Some might still look like pets, but in certain cases, even domestic dogs can behave like predators. Especially with particular breeds.
 
Apparently, this is what Sherry and Lothar Schweder encountered along a country road in Georgia. They say a pack of wild dogs killed Sherry Schweder as she took an evening walk. When her husband when he went to look for her after she had failed to return, he was also viciously attacked and killed. The local authorities euthanized more than a dozen dogs they suspect were involved but there were at least as many that escaped and are still on the loose.
 
There is a less accurate count for global killings by wild dog packs, but in the United States it still remains rare. But over the last 10 years, the trend has slowly escalated. At least 20 Americans have died so far this year from dog attacks. This is only slightly less than those who died from lightning strikes.
 
In one instance, police and paramedics were called to a residential dirt road this week All they found were pieces of cloth and the bloodstained earth where a hiker was brought down, mauled and killed. Sixteen roaming wild dogs have been rounded up in connection that death, but most of the dogs, including the Alpha leader, managed to get away.
 
Reactions to these incidents have ranged from surprise, outrage, shock, awe, and in some cases, a newly found fear in people who encounter strange dogs. If you hike long enough on any hiking trail in America, or drive into any rural area, or pass through major city's slum area, or abandoned property, factories, etc., you could encounter a strange dog wandering around without an owner. And they are getting closer to major population areas. Some of the major cities included, but were not limited to, Detroit, St. Louis, and Atlanta.
 
Just three years ago, yearling lambs were killed by wild dogs packs. Some were roaming among endangered peninsular bighorn sheep territory and were killing them. Packs of wild dogs have even been reported in the open desert along the edges of the Santa Rosa Mountains in California. Some reports have counted as many of 38 feral dogs running in one pack. Humans generally provide them shelter where they thrive. This includes abandoned structures, vacant houses, large fielded areas, wooded areas, garages, outbuildings, and abandoned factories.
 
Some dog packs have attacked wildlife in National Parks. "When you find them chewed up on the flanks, it's usually dogs," said Kevin Brennan, a wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. "It's more of a game for them. They're just chasing the animals, having fun."
 
We haven't even talked about domestic dog bite victims. Domesticated pets have also killed. Owners and family members have been victims too. In July of 2009, a 3-month-old infant was bitten in the face. She died from the Pit Bull dog's bite. Another pet owner died near St. Louis as the result of an apparent attack by his 8-year-old female and a 3-year-old male Pit Bull dogs. Both dogs joined forces, making escape impossible. Some breeds are more aggressive than others. The bulk of the homicides are from Pit Bulls and Rottweilers: Rottweilers alone being responsible for about half of all human deaths from dog attacks. [1]
 
Wild dog pack attacks even reach to Hawaii In November of 2006, state wildlife officials said they had to shot and killed a pack of wild dogs at Kaena Point. The pack killed an entire colony of native seabirds. More than one hundred of the Wedgetail Shearwater fledglings were killed…as sport. Wild dog packs don't just kill to eat. They do eat, but they also randomly kill, apparently just for the sake of killing. It is fun to them.
 
In my own rural community of Belle Plaine, Kansas, which is in Sumner County, south of Wichita, I have had two personal experiences and have heard of two others in our county where people were chased, farm animals and pets were killed, and even the coyotes ran from them. The Sumner County and Cowley County (KS) sheriffs offices know about these wild dog packs and can do little to police such a large, rural area. There are estimates from some witnesses that the pack is from ten to fifteen.
 
A growing menace that is, for the most part, being ignored, even though as recently as 2007, Texas has had 7 killings by dogs this year alone. Georgia and Tennessee have both had 4. As the number of these wild dog packs grow, so too will the number of attacks. People are losing their pets like cats, dogs, and their livestock, like cattle and sheep and in some cases, their family members. In the last six years, more people have been killed by wild dog packs than in the previous thirty years. And, as was mentioned earlier, it is not only a problem in the U.S., but worldwide. For example, counting all minor children living in London (under 18), there has been a 119 per cent rise in hospitalization as a direct result of dog attacks in that six-year period.
 
Spaying and neutering dogs and cats may slow this trend of growing wild dog packs. This tends to make these animals become more sedentary and more domesticated. They stay closer to home too. Regardless, depending on where you live, wild dog packs are a growing menace. And one that is often and most easily overlooked.
 
 
1. JAVMA, Vol 217, No. 6, P. 837. Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in
   the United States between 1979 and 1998. JAVMA, Vol 217, No. 6, P. 837.
   Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; Leslie Sinclair, DVM; Julie Gilchrist, MD; Gail C.
   Golab, PhD, DVM; Randall Lockwood, PhD. Vet Med Today: Special Report of
   September 15, 2000.


  
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