Although the title might seem obvious (of course dog bites can be dangerous!) we want to point out some of the not so obvious issues with dog bites and lost dogs. One of the greatest dangers of a dog bite can be to the dog himself.
Lost dogs are usually scared and running on high adrenaline. Many lost dogs will understandly turn and bite out of fear when they are finally caught. Well-meaning but mis-informed owners and Good Samaritans (whose adrenaline is probably also running high) can inflame the situation and cause the dog to bite. In Illinois (and most states) every bite or scratch that breaks skin results in a 10 day rabies quarantine for that animal. The bite can be little more than a nip, but in the eyes of the law, they are all the same and will be treated the same.
If the dog’s rabies vaccine is not current (or the status of their rabies vaccine is unknown) then the quarantine must be done at a shelter or stray holding facility. The stress of the shelter and the close contact with other dogs puts the lost dog at high risk of getting sick. The costs of the quarantine, medical treatment and care for the dog will be transferred back to the owner and may be hundreds of dollars. If an owner cannot afford the reclaim fees, the dog is at high risk of being put down, because the shelter may not consider the dog “adoptable”.
If the lost dog is a foster dog, a dog lost from a rescue transport, or a shelter or rescue dog, they may be deemed “unadoptable” if they bite someone (even if they bite out of fear and are normally a friendly dog). Many shelters and rescues will not take on the additional risk of liability of a dog that has bitten and will put him down. This is a very sad reality.
How can you, as an owner or a Good Samaritan, prevent dog bites? By doing everything possible to avoid them. Whenever possible, let the owner handle the dog. If the owner is not there, contact them, put some food on the ground and retreat. Let the dog eat and get comfortable and wait for the owner to arrive. If you must approach a lost dog do it with great caution. Better yet, let him come to you. Sit on the ground with your back to the dog and gently throw out tasty treats to him. He may creep towards you. ALWAYS carry and wear thick, leather gloves. Completely cover your hands and arms. If you are helping someone with a trap, always wear gloves – especially when releasing wildlife, carrying the trap with the dog in it, or removing a dog from a trap. Make sure that everyone that is helping with a trap is also equipped with leather gloves.
At the very least – dog bites are expensive. At most – they may result in the death of a dog. Please do everything possible to avoid being bitten when you are helping someone catch their missing dog.