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Reducing Dog Bites

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Reducing dog bites in a large, metropolitan city is not a simple solution. It takes time, but the most important part is that the entire community is working toward a solution. From addressing roaming dogs to breed-specific legislation, reducing dog bites is important to keeping Atlanta safe.

Many large, metropolitan U.S. cities are faced with a roaming dog problem, including many of our Atlanta neighborhoods. Some of these dogs are strays, and some are owned. But all have one thing in common. They are usually lacking proper care and socialization, and they sometimes pose a threat to public safety.

How effective is BSL at keeping communities safe?

A recent, fatal attack on a child in Atlanta devastated our city, and we are all searching for solutions to prevent this from ever happening again. Often after a tragedy, there is a knee-jerk response to demand immediate change. Some have suggested the idea of passing Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). But BSL legislation in other cities has been proven ineffective and a death sentence for many innocent dogs.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals. It generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds. In the last few decades, breed-specific legislation has specifically targeted pit-bull type dogs. This is under the assumption that this breed is vicious or dangerous.

Neglected, abused and mistreated dogs can be dangerous, but this isn’t limited to a particular breed based on physical traits. There is no evidence that BSL makes communities safer for people or their pets. In fact, many studies and organizations have proven otherwise, including the CDC, the American Kennel Club and the ASPCA. Learn more about BSL.

What makes dogs bite?

Many studies, including one by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, show that the majority of dog bites and fatalities happen in the lowest income areas of the United States. And studies also found that the majority of dogs in these neighborhoods are resident dogs who live outdoors without integration into the family. In contrast, the study found that the majority of dogs living in more affluent areas are “family dogs,” who receive daily, positive interactions with people. 

Also, according to the National Canine Research Council, in fatal dog attacks in the United States, 97% of the owners did not spay or neuter their dogs, 84% of the attacks involved reckless owners and 78% of the owners did not keep their dogs as pets or socialize them.

These and many other studies have concluded that socialization by humans, not breed, is the key factor that determines a dog’s likeliness to become violent.

What can be done to reduce dog bites?

When reducing dog bites, a multifaceted approach seems to work best. One part of that approach is to restrict reckless owners from owning dogs. Some cities, such as St. Paul, Minnesota and Tacoma, Washington, have ordinances restricting pet owners who have been cited for animal abuse or neglect more than once from ever owning another dog. We also need to better enforce our anti-tethering laws. Dogs are not meant to be tied up in a yard with little interaction. They are social animals that require affection and love.

Since there is a correlation between states that have strong animal protection laws and lower incidences of dog bites, another part of the solution involves strengthening animal protection laws. Below are state rankings of animal protection laws from 2014. Georgia is in the lowest tier. View the most recent rankings of state animal protection laws.

a map showing the rankings of state's animal protection laws

Other methods that have proven effective in reducing dog bites involve implementing the following:

  • Low-cost spay/neuter programs
  • Responsible pet ownership classes that focus on socializing the dog
  • Bite prevention courses in schools and community centers
  • A community-based approach to animal control
  • Access to resources such as veterinary care for those pet owners in need


LifeLine Animal Project has been offering free spay/neuters, vaccines and microchips through our Healthy Pets events. We operate two LifeLine Spay & Neuter Clinics that provide affordable services for our city, and we’re the largest provider of spay/neuter resources in Georgia. We also focus on education in schools and neighborhoods about anti-tethering restrictions, bite prevention and more.

Looking to the Future

If Atlanta is going to create safer and more humane communities, we need to invest in programs and take a more holistic approach in solving the problem. Unfortunately, the per capita amount of public funds spent on shelter animals in Atlanta is a little over $2 per citizen although the national average is $8. Cities mirroring Atlanta’s population size spend anywhere from $11 to $16 per citizen. We need to invest more in animal services, strengthen our animal welfare laws, educate on proper pet care and make low-cost spay/neuter surgeries and affordable veterinary care accessible to all.   

Over the last few years, LifeLine has worked closely with both Fulton and DeKalb County to redefine the county animal ordinances. This has included harsher penalties for animal abusers, while making tethering and chaining dogs illegal. These ordinances were revised to define a vicious or dangerous dog by its behavior, not its breed.

How You Can Help

Our Atlanta county shelters receive an average of 40 – 60 animals per day. Here is how you can help.


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