Reporting a Dog Bite

Liz Palika

Should I report a dog bite?

Dogs are our best friends but as with any friendship, occasionally there are bumps in the road. When dogs bite, that friendship is significantly strained. Statistics vary according to the source but approximately 350,000 people go to the emergency room each year because of a dog bite. Another 850,000 seek medical care other than the ER. Those are serious statistics.

Being bitten by a dog is traumatizing; even if the bite appears minor. No one expects to be bitten. However, there are a few things you need to do.

Take Photos

If you are bitten by a dog, no matter how minor it seems, pull out your smart phone and start taking photos. It only takes seconds to do but these photos can help identify the dog later. Size, shape, color, tail or no tail; anything that can identify this dog from another.

Take photos of the dog’s owner right away too. Unfortunately, far too often the owner will grab his dog and disappear.

Then take photos of where you are. Get street signs, house numbers, make, model, and license plates of cars. Take photos of anything that will identify where the bite occurred.

These might be needed by the police, animal control, insurance companies, or a lawyer if necessary.

Information from the Dog’s Owner

If the owner doesn’t immediately grab the dog and take off, get the owner’s name, address, and phone number. Ask for the dog’s name, age, breed, or mixture of breeds (not to blame the breed but for identification). Ask for their homeowner or renter’s insurance information.

Ask for the dog’s regular veterinarian so you can contact them for vaccination information; especially rabies. If the dog is licensed and is wearing a tag, ask the owner to give you that information too. Don’t worry about the dog’s bite history, normal temperament, training, or anything like that. The dog has bitten you and that’s all that’s needed right now. Others can investigate the dog’s history.

Call the Police

If the bite is anything more than a scratch, or especially if the dog’s owner is hostile, call the police. A police officer can calm the situation, decide if the dog needs to be impounded immediately, and if you need immediate help. The police officer will file a report about the incident which will be important to your insurance company, the dog owner’s insurance company, and animal control.

When calling the police, if the bite is minor, call the non-emergency number but state that all parties are still at the scene. If the bite is more than minor (you’re bleeding, significantly hurt, going into shock) call 911.

Get the incident report number from the police and keep that in your records. Everyone will need that when referring to the case.

Get Medical Care

Once the police have finished, go get medical care. If the bite is minor, call your doctor for an appointment within 24 hours. If that’s not possible, go to an urgent care or emergency room. Dog bites almost always get infected without medical care and even a skin scratch may have damaged tissues underneath.

If you are more severely injured, the police officer will call for an ambulance. Don’t refuse to go. At this point you probably aren’t thinking clearly so let the police officer make that call.

Later, Call Animal Control

Once you have received medical care and you’re home, then it’s time to make a few more calls. First, call your local animal control and report the bite. In many states, including California, New York, and North Carolina, any dog bite must be reported if any medical care (emergency or otherwise) is needed.

Many states also require that doctors report dog bites. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen in a timely manner so file a report yourself as soon as you can.

Laws vary from state to state but report any dog bite no matter what. When a bite is reported, animal control can verify the dog is up to date on vaccinations, including rabies.

Animal control will open a file on the incident which will include anything they find out during an investigation, especially if the bite required medical attention. The investigation will look at whether the dog has a biting history, has a pattern of behavior, or other dangerous habits.

Who Else?

Notify your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company. Depending on the company and your policy, they may be able to help. They could contact the dog owner’s insurance company for aid in covering your medical bills or lost wages. However, don’t be in a rush to close the case too soon; you won’t know for a while how long your recovery will take or how much additional medical care you’ll need. Dog bites can be difficult to heal.

If you are accumulating bills in response to the dog bite or the dog’s owner is uncooperative, you may want to contact an attorney. There are many who are knowledgeable in dog bite laws so look for one who is in your area.

Both your insurance company and an attorney will want copies of your photos, all police report information, all the information you have on the dog and owner, and the animal control report.

Pursue This

Some people don’t want to file a report with animal control or call the police because the dog owner might be a neighbor, or the dog may belong to a friend. Keep in mind that reporting a bite is usually required by law. Plus, if you would like help covering medical bills and lost wages, the bite must be reported. Then, too, if the dog bit you, who else will he bite?

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