Series of Dog Attacks Rattles Cleveland


Many of us have gotten nervous when a strange dog approaches us aggressively. But maybe the dogs we should actually be concerned about are the ones in our own homes. Three Northeast Ohio animal attacks in July illustrate the danger even loved ones can face from out-of-control pets.

Three dog attacks

On July 13, 2015, a woman died after being mauled by a pit bull at a Shaker Heights home. She was the 71-year-old grandmother of the dog’s owner. When the dog attacked, neighbors rushed in to help. One shot and wounded the dog, stopping the attack, but it was too late. The woman’s injuries were too severe and she died at the hospital. Police later shot and killed the dog.

In Willowick, a pair of large dogs broke loose from their owner’s house and bit two people before police subdued then with a stun gun. And in Chardon, a 7-month-old baby suffered life-threatening injuries when she got caught in the middle of a fight between a bulldog and a pit bull. Both dogs belonged to members of the infant’s family.

Can we blame the breed?

Two of these three violent attacks involved pit bulls. They add to the breed’s longstanding reputation for danger. So should Cleveland-area lawmakers ban breeds like pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans? It’s a national debate with passionate supporters on both sides. But currently, the trend is moving away from breed-specific legislation.

Many studies have concluded that breed-specific legislation doesn’t have a measurable effect on stopping dog attacks. In 2006, the National Canine Research Council identified the most common factors found in fatal dog attacks:

  • 97 percent of the dogs involved were not spayed or neutered.
  • 84 percent of the attacks involved owners who had abused or neglected their dogs, failed to contain their dogs, or failed to properly chain their dogs.
  • 78 percent of the dogs were not kept as pets but as guard, breeding, or yard dogs.

Organizations including the ASPCA and the American Bar Association currently advocate for breed-neutral laws that target troublesome pet owners:

  • Enhance enforcement of dog licensing and leash/dog–at–large laws.
  • Focus on dogs’ individual behavior, with mandated sterilization and microchipping of dogs deemed dangerous.
  • Hold dog owners financially, civilly, and criminally accountable for violations.
  • Mandate the sterilization of shelter animals and make low–cost sterilization services widely available.

Were these attacks preventable?

Although police are still investigating each case to determine whether to file charges, these don’t seem to be stories of random aggression. All of the victims were neighbors or family members of the dogs’ owners.

These three dog attacks underscore the importance of responsible pet ownership. In fact, the state of Ohio’s dog bite law holds dog owners and caretakers legally responsible for their dogs’ behavior. During May’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week I shared tips on preventing dog bites. Reviewing these tips with your family is about more than being a good neighbor—it could save lives.