Dog-bite victims need extra help

By Elizabeth Binning

11,708 people made $2.4m in claims to ACC after needing medical attention following a dog attack last year. Photo / Thinkstock
11,708 people made $2.4m in claims to ACC after needing medical attention following a dog attack last year. Photo / Thinkstock

At least 160 people were so badly mauled by dogs last year that they needed additional support for lost income, home help or rehabilitation.

In some of the worst cases chunks of flesh and scalp were torn away from the victims' bodies and young children needed emergency facial reconstruction as a result of ferocious attacks.

The Herald revealed this week that 11,708 people made $2.4m in claims to ACC after needing medical attention following a dog attack last year.

While those figures did not specify the seriousness of the injury, additional figures supplied by ACC reveal 164 of the victims also applied for entitlement claims.

ACC claims management general manager Denise Cosgrove said an entitlement claim is where ACC pays for more than just medical treatment, indicating the injury was more than just a small bite which required a couple of stitches.

"The most common example of an entitlement is where weekly compensation for lost earnings is paid while the injured client is off work.

"It could also include home help, vocational rehabilitation, housing or vehicle modification etc," she said.

Local Government Minister Nick Smith this week promised to seek more detailed information about serious dog attacks, particularly ones involving children or happening in public places, after three children were mauled in less than a week.

Mr Smith said he planned to use the review to see if there was anything further that could be done to try and prevent such attacks but warned there were no magic bullets.

"I don't want to raise expectations too high around the potential for improving the law - there's been about three attempts in recent decades at the law.

"There may be some areas where we can tweak the law and improve public safety - but there are no magic bullets," he said.

Middlemore Hospital charge nurse Donelle Whiu, who spent a year researching patients under 16 who had been attacked by dogs, said better education and supervision was the answer to preventing further attacks - not banning specific breeds of dogs or tightening legislation.

The hospital treated 62 children in the 2010/11 year; of these 34 had received punctured skin after one bite, 14 had been bitten more than once and 3 involved cases where the dogs had been "ripping and tearing chunks out".

Ten different breeds were responsible for the attacks, including pitbull or Staffordshire crosses (58 per cent), Alaskan malamutes (5 per cent) and shar peis (8 per cent).

Ms Whiu said the vast majority of the attacks involved dogs known to the children and just over half of the cases involved unsupervised children.

Many were triggered by children getting too close to dogs with food or while the dog was eating.

She believed better education and supervision was the key to preventing future attacks.

"We need to be intelligent about it and try some experience from other countries before we throw money into legislation that won't make a difference [such as banning certain breeds]."

- NZ Herald

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