Vet tells students what to do when a dog attacks

Big dogs are not always the most dangerous.



BROOKFIELD — You’re walking down the street and suddenly a dog appears, barking at you. What do you do?

“The best thing is to stand still,” said Howland veterinarian Sam Costello.

“Dogs like things moving, yelling, flailing around,” he explained to students at Brookfield High School during a Thursday presentation.

Don’t take off running and don’t make direct eye contact, which the dog sees as a threat, he said.

In the worst-case scenario, if the dog attacks and has a part of you in his mouth, don’t turn away, he added.

“It’s best to stick your hand or foot deeper into the dog’s mouth,” he said, adding that the maneuver can cause the dog to let go. “I know that’s difficult to do — your normal reaction is to pull away, but that’s often when the worst damage is done,” he said.

Further, he told the students they should never approach a dog they don’t know because they might not know how to read its body language. “If it’s tail is up, wagging, ears up, you can tell that’s a happy dog,” he noted.

Costello and his wife, Katie, founded the group K-9’s for Compassion, an 8-year-old group that works with 52 animals of many kinds, 48 human handlers and 17 facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals and libraries to provide animal companionship for the people there — most of them elderly or ill. The organization works in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Mercer counties.

They explained the program and discussed animal safety and pet ownership with Brookfield students — most of them middle and high-school special-needs students.

Dr. Costello said he has learned to read dog body language over his 15 years as a veterinarian, so he finds dogs easier to predict than cats. “Cats are more unpredictable and quick,” he said, relating a time when a cat scratched him on both sides of his face with its claws before he had time to react.

His wife, who works as a technician with her husband at Town and Country Veterinary Hospital in Howland, said there is other evidence that big dogs are not always the most dangerous.

For instance, statistics show that the type of dog that produces the highest number of trips to the emergency room is Chihuahua, she said.

“It’s not the pit bulls that everyone’s banning. It’s the Chihuahuas,” she said, noting that her two favorite types of dog are standard poodle and pit bull.

After the presentation, the pupils were permitted to spend time with the three K-9’s for Compassion dogs.

Freshman Brittany Dunham of Brookfield petted Bear, a Chow-Husky mix that Dr. Costello took into his home after it came into the clinic with a broken leg in 1997. Afterward, Dunham’s teacher, Stacey Filicky, said presenting information on dog safety is valuable for her special-needs students.

“The issue of how to approach a dog is important for these kids because they don’t always think. They’re more impulsive, so they’re more likely to get bit,” she said. She added that her pupils also benefit from being around animals because they give the kids love and teach them compassion.

Special education teacher Linda Papagna, who organized the event, said she has brought her own dogs into her high school-age class several times. The dogs generally sit quietly near the kids, helping some of them focus better, calming some and improving the attitude of some.

Studies show that people who have pets or get visits from animals live longer, Katie Costello added.

She started K-9’s for Compassion in spring 2000, after her father, Tony Matola of Hubbard, adopted a dachshund/beagle mix named Munchkin, and discovered how much joy the dog brought to nursing home residents.