Retired cop Jim Crosby is the country’s leading expert in canine aggression and dog attacks. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, he travels the country to investigate crime scenes involving canines and dog bites, and says there are some surprising facts that all dog owners really need to know.
“Dog bites affect nearly five million people in the U.S. every year,” Jim says. “Even though the 25 or so fatalities each year are a tiny number in the grand scheme of things, almost all of these deaths can also be prevented. About 800,000 people in the U.S. get bitten badly enough every year to need medical treatment. That is far too many.”
Dogster readers may be surprised to know that humans have lost their lives to breeds ranging from Pomeranians and Jack Russells to Great Danes and Presa Canarios. “All dogs have teeth and present a risk,” he explains. “Kids and seniors are the most common victims of serious attacks, since they often do not have the strength to fight off a determined dog. One of the most common contributing factors to fatalities, particularly among kids, is parents not supervising small children and dogs. And dogs are quick; a dog can bite and release three times in a second.”
When Jim talks about saving lives, he means canine as well as human ones. He refuses to demonize any dog, even though that is most people’s first reaction in a canine-aggression investigation. Shortly after returning from the National Dog Bite Investigation, Treatment, and Prevention Conference in Atlanta, where other esteemed participants included Victoria Stilwell, Jim sat down for this exclusive Dogster interview.
“One thing people need to understand is the complexity of these issues,” he says. “Most times, people see ‘Dog mauls/kills person,’ especially a child, and they assume, ‘Evil dog! Monster! Kill it!’ The truth is far from being that simple. You have an aberrant behavior by an animal that has socially evolved with, and lived with, humans for thousands of years. For that relationship to go wrong takes a near hurricane of factors. It’s never good dog vs. bad dog; it is way more than that. We have to honor dogs’ nature and accept that they are not people, and don’t deserve our outrage when they act consistently with their nature.”
Jim says he didn’t decide to become the go-to guy for canine aggression and dog attacks, but that it just happened after he retired from a 22-year police career. “I had gotten my dog Sam, a Curly-Coated Retriever, and as I got more involved in training, I became more interested in behavior. I also became aware of the issues of bad behavior in dogs, and heard about the worst of the worst, those cases wherein dogs killed humans. And that kicked the old cop sense into gear, and I started to wonder why and how these companion animals could go so bad.”
What he found was, he says, “an incredible lack of inquiry. People just said, ‘Oh, the dog did it,’ and that was that. My cop side cried, ‘Bullshit!’ I wanted real answers. So I started taking more classes. I finished my degree in psychology to understand behavior better. And I reached back, and took up all the evidence and crime scene experience and training, and began asking harder and more pointed questions. That led to my becoming really the first person ever to go to crime scenes and interview witnesses and others, and put hands on the dogs accused, to try and find out what happened and why.”
Jim has learned a great deal from dogs, especially Sam, who strengthened his resolve that “everyone deserves to be treated fairly and objectively, two-legged or four.” That includes the so-called dangerous dog breeds. “We still have heavy levels of prejudice when it comes to perceptions of nature and aggression. People make assumptions based on public claims, personal experience, and, frankly, mythology that is totally wrong. … I look at the dog’s behavior as objectively as I can, and honestly don’t care what kind of dog it is. The evidence says what it says.”
A great example was Winston, aka Winnie, short for Winnie-the-Pooh, as he was named by Jim’s daughters. The Pit Bull survived Hurricane Katrina, and Jim’s family adopted the dog after Jim returned home from volunteering in New Orleans in 2006.
“I have had several Pit Bull-type dogs over the years, either in training, in foster, or as my own,” Jim says. “Winnie had been labeled as potentially dangerous. I found him to be easy and personable, loving, and very stable despite his experiences. Winnie was just more proof that individual dogs have wonderful attributes that far outweigh the broad brush too many people tend to paint with.”
The cases Jim investigates are heartbreaking. In West Virginia, where a 2-year-old was killed by a dog with a known, proven tendency to attack humans that was encouraged by the owner, “we managed to send the owner to prison,” he recalls “This was a precedent-setting case, as the state had never prosecuted anyone for a death caused by a dog.” The conviction was upheld by the West Virginia Supreme Court, giving prosecutors a better way to hold animal owners accountable for negligent behavior.
In a similar recent case in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where a baby was killed, Jim evaluated a Siberian Husky, which the local DA had insisted should be killed. However, he says, “Of the four dogs in the house, they only accused and seized the friendly one that was easiest to take. They never even looked at the two dogs locked in the basement because of ‘security’ reasons. That makes no sense.”
Jim showed the court a detailed evaluation of the accused dog and argued for the lack of evidence supporting its behavior. “I was able to get the court to agree to allow the dog to be permanently relocated to a sanctuary outside Pennsylvania. … The downside is that I believe the responsible dog(s) are still uncontrolled and unaccounted for, and a baby is needlessly dead. But at least this particular dog was not made a scapegoat.”
Check out Jim’s blog and follow him on Twitter @TheDogGuyJim.