Objective—To summarize breeds of dogs involved in
fatal human attacks during a 20-year period and to
assess policy implications.
Animals—Dogs for which breed was reported involved
in attacks on humans between 1979 and 1998 that
resulted in human dog bite-related fatalities (DBRF).
Procedure—Data for human DBRF identified previously
for the period of 1979 through 1996 were combined
with human DBRF newly identified for 1997
and 1998. Human DBRF were identified by searching
news accounts and by use of The Humane Society of
the United States' registry databank.
Results—During 1997 and 1998, at least 27 people died
of dog bite attacks (18 in 1997 and 9 in 1998). At least
25 breeds of dogs have been involved in 238 human
DBRF during the past 20 years. Pit bull-type dogs and
Rottweilers were involved in more than half of these
deaths. Of 227 reports with relevant data, 55 (24%)
human deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners'
property, 133 (58%) involved unrestrained dogs on
their owners' property, 38 (17%) involved restrained
dogs on their owners' property, and 1 (< 1%) involved a
restrained dog off its owner's property.
Conclusions—Although fatal attacks on humans
appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type
dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and
cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties
inherent in determining a dog's breed with certainty,
enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional
and practical issues. Fatal attacks represent
a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and,
therefore, should not be the primary factor driving
public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical
alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and
hold promise for prevention of dog bites. (J Am Vet
Med Assoc 2000;217:836–840)