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Cape rallies to support family

By Staff | Dec 25, 2009

A bank account has been opened in the name of a Cape Coral toddler who was fatally bitten Tuesday morning by one of his family’s two dogs.

An account for Liam Perk has been set up at Fifth Third Bank, according to a bank employee. Those who wish to donate to the fund can drop by any branch of Fifth Third Bank and have their donation deposited into the account.

Liam, 2, was severely bitten in the neck area by his family’s 8-year-old male Weimaraner. Officials were uncertain Tuesday about what occurred before the attack, but it appeared there was no direct provocation from the boy.

“We don’t know anything for sure, but it appears the child walked by the dog and for whatever reason the dog was startled,” said Connie Barron, spokeswoman for the Cape Coral Police Department. “Something apparently, obviously, startled the dog when the child walked by and the dog immediately snapped at the child and bit him in the neck area.”

Lee County Animal Services euthanized the dog Wednesday, after the family surrendered custody, because the dog could not be adopted out to a new home, officials reported. A female Weimaraner, also removed from the home but not involved in Tuesday’s attack, posed no danger and was returned to the family.

Officials could not find a trigger or reason leading to this week’s tragedy – the pet had no history of aggressive behavior and the bite was unprovoked.

While fatal attacks are rare, dog bites are fairly common, accounting for 5 percent of emergency room visits. Officials estimate that 1 out of every 2 children will experience a dog bite by age 12.

For families with pets, local dog trainers offer some general advice on bite prevention and information about dog safety as most dog bites occur in the home and children, and the elderly, are the most common victims.

Patrick Logue, an advanced dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters, said all interaction between dogs and young children needs to be watched.

“Dogs use body language and vocal tones to communicate,” he said.

“You want to make sure kids don’t play too rough with a dog, even if they’re having a good time,” Logue said. “A dog might nip at a child even if it’s playing because that’s how a dog communicates.”

Alice Roberts, a member of the Dog Obedience Club of Lee County, takes a similar view.

“I think one of the main tips with very small children is they should always be under supervision when there is a dog around,” she said.

“It’s a tragic thing that happened this past week,” Roberts said. “Even gentle dogs should be attended to when there are small children around.”

Logue also advised against allowing a young child to discipline a dog, and said children should not pull on a dog’s collar, ears or tail. Children should not be allowed to feed or walk a dog without adult supervision, nor should they pet a stranger’s dog without first asking for permission.

Roberts said people should do their homework before buying a dog, such as finding out about a dog’s temperaments, and that all dogs should go through some level of obedience training.

“We have so many dog problems now, so many dogs that are at the Humane Society and Animal Control, and most of it is because the dogs are not trained,” she said. “They don’t respond to commands.

“They are not socialized, which is very very important,” Roberts said. “As puppies, they should be socialized.”

The Dog Obedience Club of Lee County, partnered with the city of Cape Coral, offers dog obedience lessons in the employee parking lot at City Hall several times per year. The classes are broken down into puppy, beginner and advanced, and the cost ranges from $60-$80 for residents and $78-$104 for non-residents.

“You need to have control, and that’s what we’re about,” Roberts said, adding that the lessons can go beyond the basics. “Any problems you have at home with the dog, we try to help.”

Logue agreed.

“We recognize dogs are great companion animals, but oftentimes they are misunderstood,” he said.

“We teach our clients how to better communicate with their dogs,” Logue said. “Dogs use body language and vocal tones so we teach our clients to use their body language and vocal tones to mimic how a dog communicates.”

Bark Busters, a worldwide dog training company established in Australia in 1989, also offers a free public service program online that is designated to teach children about dog safety and bite prevention. Children simply log on and the program walks them though a tutorial. At the end, they answer questions about the material they learned, then they get a certificate.

“There’s a lot of stuff geared toward adults out there, but nothing geared toward children,” Logue said of why the program was created.

Visit the Bach & Buster Buddy Dog Safety Program online at: www.BarkBustersBuddy.com.

Bark Busters also provides free, dog safety workshops to community-based organizations. According to Logue, the workshops are an overview with some basic tips, followed by a question-and-answer session. For information or to schedule a workshop, call (800) 500-BARK (2275).

For more information about the company, visit: www.BarkBusters.com.

The Lee Dog Obedience Club of Lee County will host its next dog obedience lessons from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Jan. 7-March 3.

Register in advance with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department at 573-3128, or show up on the first night and register starting at 7 p.m. Bring proof of up-to-date vaccinations and the payment for the class.