Teach kids about canine safety, inquest recommends
Assess risk from dogs, jury says
Maurice Bridge, Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, February 08, 2007
Children should never be left alone and unsupervised with dogs, Stanley Coren, Vancouver's internationally known dog expert said Wednesday before an inquest jury delivered its recommendations in the mauling death of Cody John Anger, 3.
"The bottom line is, you have a big, strong, active dog, you never, ever, leave him alone with young kids," Coren said outside the Port Coquitlam court house.
The inquest jury spent three days this week hearing testimony about the tragic death of the little boy, who died two days after Christmas, 2004, after he was savaged in his Maple Ridge home by at least one of three Rottweilers.
The attack took place in the morning while his mother, Sheri Fontaine, and two men were still asleep in the house.
The jury recommended that child protection workers should assess homes under their supervision for bite risks from animals, and that the Ministry of Education undertake a province-wide Grade 3 education program to reduce risks associated with interaction with dogs.
Coren, a University of B.C. psychology professor, who has written widely about dogs, said the size and edgy nature of Rottweilers makes them particularly unsuited to be alone with children.
The breed is extremely powerful and has one of the strongest bites in the canine world. U.S. records indicate Rottweilers are involved in 16 per cent of fatal dog-bite incidents, despite making up only 1.5 per cent of the dog population, he said.
And he added that fatal dog bites are twice as likely to occur in situations involving two or more dogs.
Although there were three Rottweilers and a collie in the house when Cody was attacked, it was never determined how many or which ones attacked him.
There was no testimony during the inquest to indicate why the dogs attacked Cody, but Coren said "just about anything" could have triggered it.
Despite their record, Coren said he wouldn't favour banning ownership of Rottweilers, and added the number of dangerous incidents could be drastically reduced by making all dogs take obedience lessons and giving all school children a short lesson in how to behave around dogs. The jurors recommended a bite-evaluation form be completed whenever child-protection workers become aware a dog is present in a home on their files, and that a mandatory risk-assessment be completed when there is a significant change in the family's situation.
During the three-day inquest, the jury heard testimony that the child-protection worker assigned to Sheri Fontaine's family was unaware Rottweilers had joined the household less than three months before Cody died, and knew little about Fontaine's new live-in boyfriend. Fontaine welcomed the recommendations.
"If they can help any family from having this happen to them, even if one child gets saved from all that, it's excellent, it's awesome," she said outside the Port Coquitlam courthouse. "I just hope it helps."
She said sitting through the inquest was difficult, but now she wants to concentrate on regaining custody of her three older children, who were taken into government care the day Cody died.