Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where's the Clifton Report?

Not here. This site presents factual information about dog bites and dog attacks.

Merritt Clifton’s tabulation of dog bite articles is incomplete, inaccurate and badly edited. Readers have no way to access the original news stories and follow-up articles; breeds of dogs aren’t accurately recorded; and there is a significant discrepancy between press accounts of dog attacks and actual hospital data.

In a single year [1994], for example, at least 6,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. as a result of dog attacks, according to the CDC. Clifton, by contrast, claims that during the 24-year period covered by his study there were a total of 2,209 “[dog] attacks doing bodily harm” in the U.S. and Canada.

The "chox mix," "Dauschund," "East Highland terrier," "Weimaeaner" and "Buff Mastiff" are a few of the breeds identified by people of "evident expertise" in this report. Blue heelers, Queensland heelers, Australian cattle dogs and Australian blue heelers are listed as separate breeds. And Clifton's unique analysis of German shepherd behavior has little, if anything in common with the GSD bred for companionship, show and protection sports for the past hundred years.

Attorney Kenneth Phillips includes the anomalous Clifton report among the more factual information on his Dog Bite Law website. I've written more about the Clifton list here.

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Kenneth said...

This is Attorney Kenneth Phillips responding. The answers to most of the questions posed by you are given in the introduction to the Clifton study, which was presented in the form of a table and can be downloaded from (use the Google function to find it there):

"[T]his table covers only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry, as designated by animal control officers or others with evident expertise, who have been kept as pets. Due to the exclusion of dogs whose breed type may be uncertain, this is by no means a complete list of fatal and otherwise serious dog attacks. Attacks by police dogs, guard dogs, and dogs trained specifically to fight are also excluded. 'Attacks doing bodily harm' includes all fatalities, maimings, and other injuries requiring extensive hospital treatment. 'Maimings' includes permanent disfigurement or loss of a limb."

There can be no doubt that no person, organization or government agency has complete information about dog attacks in any jurisdiction in the USA. All of the authoritative researchers are careful to describe the limitations of their studies. As you can see, Clifton himself does so.

The debate over the best way to decrease the number and severity of dog attacks will continue to rage on, and will be inconclusive, unless and until a comprehensive study is undertaken. I do not know of one taking place at this time.

In my opinion, one of the 10 most important steps to reducing dog bites is to complete such a study. Then the debate can come to an end, and appropriate action taken. I believe that a comprehensive study probably would lead to the conclusion that certain types of people, certain situations, and certain places increase the risk of an attack taking place. This might lead to self-regulation among dog owners, which is often the best solution.

Luisa said...

Thank you for your comments. You have an excellent site on dog bite law – one I plan to link to and discuss – though for me, at least, its credibility is harmed a bit by your praise and inclusion of the Clifton list.

Unfortunately, the introduction to the Clifton report implies that his list is indeed complete save for the exclusion of certain mixed breeds, police, security and fighting dogs. This could not be further from the truth: based on CDC data, the Clifton report represents, at best, perhaps some one percent of all hospitalizations caused by dog attacks in North America.

In the interests of integrity, Clifton should state in his report that an enormous discrepancy exists between hospital records and his own. He should point out that the CDC does not track any sort of dog attack by breed, and he should state why. His analysis of breed behavior is so riddled with error he should abandon it completely.

There is no question that certain types of people, certain situations and certain places increase the risk of a dog attack taking place. As you know, the state of Illinois recently put limitations on dog ownership by convicted felons. I’m not opposed to such an approach, though of course the single most important step to reducing dog bites is appropriate parent supervision of small children with the family dog.

Finally, I’m afraid that if it were possible to carry out a large, truly comprehensive study of dog bites by breed, one with at least minimal scientific standards – and I don’t believe this is possible, for a number of reasons – the results would not be welcomed. Some legislators, members of the news media and others have too much invested in the safe breed/dangerous breed dichotomy to address the dog bite issue in an objective, useful way. That task belongs to your site, and this one.

Thank you again for your comments. I hope that you’ll use any material on this site to add to your own.