Sanibel veterinarian calls for stricter dog attack laws

CREATED Dec. 12, 2013

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SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. – A Southwest Florida veterinarian is pushing for stricter laws after a story about a girl attacked by a dog in North Fort Myers this week.

Toddler Wrain Dearing suffered damage to her face after a pit bull attacked the girl in her neighborhood.

Dr. Mark Mathusa, a veterinarian at Beachside Animal Clinic on Sanibel Island, says in the last 15 years canine attack deaths have doubled. He believes it’s because dangerous breeds are gaining in popularity.

Dr. Mathusa says there are more than 4.5 million dog bites a year in the country. One million of those require a hospital visit and of those, 65% are children.

The veterinarian is not directly involved in this recent dog attack case, but much of his career has focused on educating people about dangerous dogs.

“You hear people say it's the owners, it’s not the breed. Is that the case?” asked reporter Kelli Stegeman.

“If you look at the statistics, you don't have to ask my opinion,” Dr. Mathusa replied.

Under a pen name, he’s authored a book dedicated to the issue called  ‘My Dog Doesn't Bite.’ He

looks at data from the American Veterinary Medical Association and other studies like one done by a man named Merritt Clifton.

“We are talking about attacks, deaths, maiming,” Dr. Mathusa said. “70% of these occur with primarily two breeds; pit bulls and Rottweilers.”

After several attacks on him personally, he's banned Rottweilers at his clinic. Dr. Mathusa says, however, this warning is not a witch hunt.

“Are all of these dogs and these breeds horrible? No,” he said.

He attributes the attacks to a mix of both breed and irresponsible owners, among other things.

Dr. Mathusa is calling to strengthen state laws he calls weak for any dog attack.

“If you have a dog that severely injures or kills someone, you should be held liable,” he said. “If that happened you would see a lot of these breeds disappear. At least their numbers would decrease significantly.”

Dr. Mathusa says the number of attacks is on the rise and says if you see a dog you don’t know, always assume it is aggressive.

He tells parents to obey your instincts if your child is in a situation with a dog that makes you nervous.

“The parents of this little girl, they shouldn't have to worry if their little girl walks outside and if the same thing is going to happen a week from now, a month from now, that shouldn't be,” he said.

Lee County Animal Services says generally speaking it takes one vicious attack on a human before a dog is taken from its owner.

Often times fines are involved rather than jail time.

Dr. Mathusa says time behind bars is exactly what some of these dog owners may need.