Dog bites occasionally occur at kennels, shelters, veterinary clinics, and other venues that host canines outside of the home. This article discusses the standard of care for preventing dog bite incidents, including the training of personnel, proper enclosures and restraints, and the policies and procedures that are reasonable and prudent to be in place to provide a safe environment.
Dog Bites at Animal Care Facilities - Expert Article
When working with animals in a kennel, shelter, or veterinary hospital, the goal is to provide proper, ethical, and appropriate care while protecting the people and animals involved. It is imperative when working in these settings to create an environment conducive to caring for animals and decreasing their stress level, while also minimizing the potential for harm to both the animal and the human caregivers.
This process begins as soon as the animal enters the facility. Animals should be leashed or in a carrier for better animal control. Animals then should be placed in a safe space, such as an exam room, kennel, or treatment area, for evaluation and care. If the owner remains present during any animal examinations or treatments, the animal should always be restrained by a trained animal handler, not the owner. Owner restraint of animals is a potential hazard to the owner, the animal, and the facility staff. If the proper safety steps are not implemented or if they are ignored, unsafe working conditions are created for personnel and animal.
Staff and Volunteer Training
The staff and volunteers of animal care facilities must be trained in animal handling to provide proper care. If a person involved in the care of the animal does not know how to properly assess and handle the animal, the likelihood for harm increases. It is of utmost importance that when dogs or cats enter a clinic, kennel, or shelter, they are handled with caution, and are managed by staff members who have training in animal behavior. Animals that are normally obedient and have calm dispositions can behave differently in an unfamiliar environment, and this may cause them to be fearful, anxious, or defensive.
With dogs, animal handlers need to know:
- How to identify signs of aggression, as well as fear, anxiety, or stress that can lead to aggression
- How to properly restrain an animal
- When and how to safely use and apply muzzles, leashes, harnesses, and other restraining devices
- How to safely maneuver dogs inside and outside of the facility
Animal Behavior Evaluation and Training
Behavior problems, including aggression, are the most common reason dogs are relinquished to shelters. It is vital that shelter workers identify at-risk dogs to keep employees and volunteers safe, make educated adoption recommendations, and set up behavior modification programs for the animals.
It is the standard of care that animal shelters adequately train the staff and volunteers to provide proper animal care to help ensure human and animal safety. Staff training involves allocating time and resources to complete the training, and to provide opportunities for trained staff members to demonstrate their proficiency prior to performing the task. Proper documentation of all training sessions should also be maintained by the respective facilities. Providing continuing education will also help staff improve and reinforce these important skills. Training should include reading common dog behavior, how to watch for signs of fear and stress that can lead to aggression, and proper animal handling techniques and use of restraints.
Best practices also include entities having and implementing aggressive animal protocols. For instance, a veterinary clinic may enforce the use of a muzzle if dealing with an aggressive patient. Oral or injectable sedation may be warranted as well to minimize stress on the patient and to protect employees. Since shelters and kennels often house pets for long periods of time, it is vital to follow proper procedures in animal care and handling. This includes decreasing stress and anxiety for the animals whenever possible. Animal personalities, behavioral habits, and routines must be observed and documented daily. Signage, collars, medical records, and shelter logs must be utilized to notify all staff and volunteers of each animal’s needs and ease of handling.
ADOPTION RETURNS / OWNER SURRENDER
In situations where an identified aggressive animal is returned to an animal facility, procedures need to be in place to determine the animal’s fate. Assessment may include deciding if the animal is suffering from a medical issue and whether the animal would benefit from time in a rehabilitation facility for training. The animal may also be a candidate for behavioral modification regimens or training with other animal care experts. Ultimately, staff must determine if the animal can be safely worked with and re-homed. If not, euthanasia may need to be considered.
If the facility fails to provide the proper environment, does not sufficiently train employees and volunteers, or fails to correctly evaluate and treat an animal, the risk of harm increases. Animals may fight among themselves, dogs may bite staff and volunteers, and dogs may injure their handler or owner. Shelters and rescues have a duty to disclose all bites, snapping, growling, aggressive behaviors, attacks, food guarding, and other concerning tendencies to prevent injury to children and adults.
DOG BITE INVESTIGATIONS
Robson Forensic can provide veterinary investigations, reports, and testimony on cases where an individual has been bitten while at an animal care facility. Our experts in veterinary medicine and animal science can review and assess veterinary medical records, animal control records, staff employment histories, staff training documentation, physician medical records, and employee handbooks, among others.
To connect with an expert about your case, submit an inquiry or call 800.813.6736.
Dr. Kenyon Conklin is a licensed veterinarian with over 20 years of experience in the private practice, corporate, military and research sectors. She provides technical investigations, analysis, reports, and testimony towards the resolution of litigation involving veterinary standards of care, animal bites and injuries to humans, working dogs, animal abuse and neglect, animal behavior, facility design, and safety issues.