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Dog fights and bites happen between dogs. Injuries between companion animals such as from a dog can be a very big deal. The issue is not just the simple bite wounds sustained during a brief, growly brawl at the puppy park. It's also the potential for crushing injuries, broken bones, and bleeding lungs that are at hand when pets get into a fighting mood.
The worst cases of injury between pets either fall under the category of “BDLD” (“big-dog-little-dog”) interactions or occur when cats find themselves on the business end of a dog's maw. In these latter cases, the aggressors are usually out to kill and they can make pretty fast (and expensive!) work of their target when they have a mind to.
Then there's adverse human-animal interaction; for example, a run-in with your neighbor's severely aggressive cat. Even worse is when your neighbor's kid gets a plastic surgeon-worthy bite to the face courtesy of your own little Dachshund.
In my experience, situations like these bring out the best and worst in humanity. Here are some examples:
With these real-life examples in mind, here's my advice for pet bite etiquette on both sides of the equation:
It's my opinion that simple bites between friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers should be settled amicably with the biter's family offering to pay for any reasonable expenses incurred.
If your pet injures a human in any way, however, experts say you should talk to a lawyer as you may be liable for damages in both the present and the future.
It's the norm for the biter's owner to pay for any reasonable expenses. But what's “reasonable”? This gets murky when you stop to consider the widening gap between what's doable and what's affordable.
Ideally, the offender's owner should be willing to pay for whatever costs the affected pet's owner thinks is fair. But that might amount to $60, $600, or $6,000 depending on the situation and the level of care elected.
Extreme expenses that pets can incur in a medical setting these days might include 4 days on a ventilator (if severe bites to the chest occur, for example). Is that “reasonable”? To you it might seem so, but to others it may not.
Sure, it's acceptable to call the police if your pet gets bitten out in public - especially by an animal whose rabies vaccination status is unknown. It's the best way to be sure that the animal has been vaccinated, her status as a “dangerous dog” is reported (if warranted and the municipality requires it), and that you'll be compensated for your veterinary expenses.
But getting a response from law enforcement is another matter altogether. In most municipalities you won't get one for most reports (using the word “rabies,” however, will probably improve your chances).
Simply put, the injured pet(s) should go to the vet of their owner's choice. I've seen plenty of situations where the owners of the animals argue over which of their vets should handle the case and that's not right. You wouldn't take your kid to another's pediatrician just because his patient treats the kid who bit her on the playground, right?
Sometimes there's plenty of blame to go around. Dogs will be dogs and when both are roaming without a leash in public (as in the first example) or playing in the park, there may be no way to determine who's at fault when something goes wrong. So why quibble?
Then there's this pesky issue: if you're injured by an animal in a setting where the animal was justifiably defending himself or his property (and the property was so marked in accordance with the law), you shouldn't expect compensation. Similarly, assessing your own role in, say, allowing your Chihuahua to go off-leash and attempt to befriend a leashed Rottweiler is critical to determining your right to compensation in the event of an attack.
Accepting responsibility for our pets' foibles-and our own-is part of belonging to a civil society. If only more common sense and civility were applied to our pet-on-pet and pet-on-human interactions I wouldn't have to write a post like this.
Oh, and one final note: in the second example above the veterinary establishment (that is, my clinic) paid for the damage. Not only does the law say we have to (yes, really), but again, dogs will be dogs and vet hospital settings have a way of setting everyone off!