By Heather Casey, CSCS, Pn2 —
Aggressive attacks can happen anywhere to anyone. A peaceful cycle through town can very much turn into a run for your life, and dogs with a rabid agenda could very well be the reason. Unless you have experienced this exact situation before, no one really anticipates being attacked by a dog or multiple dogs while riding their bike. If it happens to you, you would be part of the unfortunate recipients of the 1% of injuries caused by dogs to cyclists. Despite this seemingly low percentage, it is not a pleasant thing to experience, so let us treat this situation with care.
Wondering how this article exists in the first place? On June 1, 2022, I left my house in Salt Lake City by bike—excited to take an easy spin through downtown to Memory Grove. The plan was to ride up City Creek for the first time of the summer season. That excitement would soon burst, for I only made it to the meditation chapel in Memory Grove before I got attacked by two dogs. This would make me part of the unfortunate 1% of cyclists who have been attacked by dogs. Now that the worst is past, I have a lot to share and I will do my best to recall the experience and provide some helpful tips in case you, a friend, or a loved one is ever in a situation not dissimilar to mine.
It was a beautiful summer evening, the park was crowded, and there were people and dogs everywhere enjoying the night. I left the road and crossed over a bridge to ride up to the meditation chapel. I did not second guess hopping off the bike for a short moment to spend a moment of gratitude at this particular spot, as I always have in the past. It was simply routine to me. However, right after riding my bike over the bridge, as I got near the off-leash area called the Freedom Trail, two cattle dogs—shepherd mixes about 50 pounds apiece—were approximately 25 yards on the trail, and I rode my bike to the trailhead sign to dismount and sit by the creek.
Immediately, I saw the dogs running in tandem toward my area in my periphery, but I did not think much of it. Having experience with all-size dogs, I simply thought that the dogs were going to herd me. As I have already established above, this was not going to be the case this time. As the first dog bit at my left cycling shoe, I started to become curious but not yet alarmed. I honestly thought the dogs were going to herd me and I could ride on or they would go back to their owner. Just when I thought they were herding me, the other dog came around my back and latched onto my right calf puncturing deeply into my muscle.
This entire attack lasted approximately 90 seconds. Lasting thoughts and impressions from these long 90 seconds? This might come as a shock to some, but don’t expect anyone to help you in an emergency situation. Bystander syndrome or whatever you wanna call it, but a lot of people will be frightened to see an animal attacking a human or another dog. They will most likely stay rooted in their places and will not help you. In my case, I felt like I was in a fishbowl watching other people watching me being attacked. I fought off the dogs with my titanium frame bike. I pushed them off with the bike several times. I would soon realize afterward how glad I am that I never reached down and used my hands! Save your hands and use the bike as your weapon.
Adrenaline is running high at this point in the attack. No pain. Just fight or flight. It’s a weird feeling but instincts kick in and sometimes you just know what to do. I can tell you confidently that if I had mace or any type of defense weapon with me I would not have had the time to react nor the inclination to use it. Your bike is your best weapon.
As already mentioned, you might witness bystander syndrome and it could understandably make you feel embarrassed or frustrated. Remember, you cannot expect everyone to always act like an adult. Sometimes even if you as the victim are literally bleeding, you would have to be the one to act and step up for yourself. Once it was over, the dogs retreated and I commanded the owner to get the dogs on a leash immediately. This would prove to be a relief because the dogs tried to attack me a second time before getting them on their leashes.
The following information is rather important. You are dealing with your health and a legal matter. Save this for future reference in case you or a friend needs it:
- No matter what the dog owner says or offers to do, it is your responsibility to report the bite. There are two reasons why bite reports must be filed. The first is rabies control. Our local public health authorities need to investigate if rabies could have been transmitted to the victim. Check with your local and state laws. (Salt Lake County, Utah municipal code 8.06.210 – Animal bites Reporting requirements).
Secondly, the health authorities track the data and trends in animal bites to people within the community. In 2021, there were 5,184,057 emergency department visits for bicycle-associated injuries, and dogs are involved in 35,254 (0.67%) cases. Approximately 1% of injuries to bicyclists are associated with dogs; one-half of them sustained a bite. Rabies from dog bites can be fatal if not immediately apprehended.
In my case, I called 911. Each case is highly personal. If there is no reason to call 911, you may report the incident by calling animal control. Most likely, the Animal Control officer will want to see the wounds. I had already been treated by EMTs prior to the Animal Control officer‘s arrival. In my case, I was able to show photographs and a video with a close-up view of the punctures. The animal control officer relied on seeing these photographs to determine the number of bites and categorize each bite by type and severity. Apparently, there are different types of bites! Punctures, gashes, gashes with scratches, and other varieties exist in the world of dog bites.
- Get medical care from a professional. In my case, I was treated by EMTs at the scene where they irrigated the punctures and dressed them with a sterile bandage. A few hours after the attack, I made sure to consult with my primary physician who wrote a prescription for Augmentin—a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanate potassium. Amoxicillin is a penicillin antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body. Clavulanate potassium is a beta-lactamase inhibitor that helps prevent certain bacteria from becoming resistant to amoxicillin. Together, they function in Augmentin as a prescription antibiotic used to treat many different infections caused by bacteria. You can decide whether or not taking antibiotics is the right course of action for you with the assistance of a medical practitioner. It is typically advised as preventative care to lessen the risk of infection in cases where the puncture holes are at least half the length of the animal's tooth.
- Make sure to take pictures and videos of your wounds every day to track their healing progress, ideally starting before they are cleaned. Documentation provides details and visuals that can serve as a reference for future cases where memory would not be reliable enough.
- Speak to a few trusted legal professionals. In my case, I spoke with two lawyers. The experiences were different from one to the next. One was an injury lawyer that wanted to sign me up right away and the other was an attorney that represented cyclists. I appreciated both of their time and wanted to do my due diligence with research prior to choosing how to handle any potential for filing a case as I did not want to do anything hasty.
- Regardless of whether you choose to use a lawyer—you have rights! Utah is a “100% liability to the dog owner” state. This means that if your dog injures another human or animal, you are 100% liable (Utah code 18-1-1 Liability and damages for dog injury.)[Note: Check the code for your state]. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you are doing, or whether or not the dog was on an off-leash trail.
- Give it rest to reduce your stress. There aren’t many good decisions made in haste, and there’s no reason to be in a hurry, except 1. Reporting the bite, and 2. Getting medical care. I will not get into all the details about how I make my own choices in life, but I will share that I did not file a lawsuit against the owners. They willingly offered to pay for my medical care, and fortunately, there were not many costs involved.
- In addition to the medical care recommended by your doctor, there are some over-the-counter supplements you can take to assist in your speedy recovery and reduce the chances of long-term scarring. I used Arnica Montana topically around any skin that did not have an open puncture to reduce bruising. I also took Arnica Montana orally which is available over the counter.
- Reduce exercise or any strenuous activity and keep the area clean. For me, this meant no open water swimming or pool swimming for a couple of weeks and no high-impact exercise, like running or plyometrics.
- Lots of self-care is important during the healing process. We all heal differently and it’s important to respect and honor what your body needs. One of the most important things I did for myself two weeks after being attacked by two dogs was to visit a shamanic healer. As I said, we all believe in different things and heal in different ways. It was important to me to heal my energy channels in order to move forward in a positive manner.
Another thing I realized as I wrote this article was the fact that I have a long history of being in the 1% group. Every professional that I have ever encountered who has told me, “Oh there’s only a 1% chance of (insert phenomena) happening” alarms me because I know I’m the unfortunate one percent, always! Hopefully, this experience of mine will spare you from being a part of the 1% statistic of dog attacks while biking. It’s useful information and you never know when you might be able to share this with others.