SIKESTON -- Sometimes even the best dogs can misbehave.
That's what one family learned over the weekend, when a 4-year-old boy was mauled by an American Bulldog.
The boy's injuries included an ear that was almost entirely ripped off, a bite through his cheek that was three to four inches long, and several other bite marks on his face and arms, according to the incident report at the Sikeston Department of Public Safety. Missouri Delta Medical Center called in the incident as per standard policy when the boy was taken there for treatment on Sunday afternoon, said Trey Hardy, code enforcement supervisor for the city of Sikeston.
Steve Williams, a veterinarian at the Animal Health Center in Sikeston, said American Bulldogs are typically good, gentle dogs. "They have mostly great personalities," he said.
And that was the case with the dog in question, according to animal control officers, who investigated the incident.
The accident occurred at the home of relatives of the boy. Hardy said that, based on the animal control unit's investigation, the boy was outside with another child playing with the dog. Adults heard his screams and found him injured.
Officials are not yet sure what prompted the attack, but according to the reports, the dog was often around children and had always been playful with them in the past. He had previously shown no aggression nor bitten anyone, according to Hardy.
"The dog was not in violation of any ordinances prior to the attack," said Hardy. "We had no history with this dog, so it was not included in the dangerous dog order."
However, because of the attack, coupled with the dog owner's inability to show proof of rabies vaccination, the dog was isolated as of Monday.
"In order for the owner to get the dog back, they must get the shots up-to-date and come into compliance with our dangerous dog ordinance," said Hardy. He said that, over the years, the city has responded to numerous reports of dog bites, some more serious than others.
According to Chapter 6.40 of the city's municipal code, those who keep pitbulls or dangerous dogs must follow certain guidelines, such as being securely leashed and muzzled when outside the kennel and be securely confined indoors.
There are penalties for violating the provisions. More information on the dangerous dog ordinance can be found online at /www.sikeston.org/AnimalControl/ORD5527.pdf
Regardless of the breed, any dog that bites someone, automatically falls to that classification due to the incident.
And Williams said that, although some breeds may have violent tendencies, it doesn't make each dog in that breed bad -- or mean that a dog that is typically gentle, such as the American Bulldog, is exempt from aggression.
"You can't lump them into a group and say 'this whole group is bad,'" said Williams. "Under the right circumstances, if the environment is bad, those extenuating circumstances can make any breed bad."
Williams said incidents are often the result of a lack of discipline and training, but can also just be a case of bad luck. He also said that children or older people are most likely to be victims of a dog attack.
"Dogs are prey animals," he said. "So if they see something behavior-wise that's unusual, they tend to go toward that."
But dogs usually give some warning signs before they attack. It may be hard for a child to notice that, though, because they often don't pay attention to the animals or realize those signs.
"Watch for hair bristling and their body language, such as if they get tense and rigid and their tail is erect and not wagging," said Williams. "And when you are introduced, be on their level and don't tower above them."
The dog involved in the weekend incident had no history of aggression. But if one does, Williams advised that it be put in a kennel or other secure shelter before company comes over -- something people may definitely want to consider with the upcoming holidays. He also said people should always be cautious of dog bites.
"We assume that all animals will bite, until proven otherwise," he said.