Dog bite victims often not only suffer physical bite injuries, but also long lasting emotional injuries as well. By providing support and helping the dog bite victim process the event, further psychological scarring (such as the development of a phobia of dogs or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other anxiety disorders) may be prevented. Most important is to assess whether the victim is in acute stress. The usual symptoms of acute stress after a dog bite include feeling like they are out of control, falling apart or having a breakdown, or appearing emotionally distraught. If they are expressing these symptoms, the best way to help is to diffuse their stress by getting them to focus on present needs like thirst or hunger, or less stressful topics. Always seek medical or professional help if you feel it is needed.
The goal of counseling a dog bite victim is to encourage, normalize and validate the emotional response and healing process and to re-empower the victim and help them to regain control. Once they control their fears they can reconnect with dogs. Unless the victim clearly provoked the attack it is very important to be on the victim’s side rather than look at what they did or did not do. Trying to rationalize the bite and look at the role the victim played in the attack will only victimize and disempower them more, and stir up other negative emotions such as guilt. Never, ever blame the victim – it is a golden rule.
Many dog bite victims will go through stages of emotional stress and healing. Knowing how to identify and address each stage can better help you cope with the emotional effects of a dog bite.
The first stage is shock or denial. Sometimes there is disbelief or denial that the attack occurred and a desire to move on quickly, with minimal fuss. While you don’t want to force a dog bite victim to confront the traumatic event before they are ready, you will want to be consistent in your discussions regarding the attack with the victim.
The next stage that victims might go through is anger. Here the victim wants to take control, possibly get revenge or extract retribution. This is often a defense against feelings of victimization, disempowerment, helplessness and hopelessness. The best support can be a good listener and someone who can help the victim work through the anger in a reasonable manner.
The next stage is bargaining. This is where the victim might be thinking things like ‘as long as I don’t go near a specific breed of dog’ or ‘as long as I don’t wear whatever clothes they were wearing on the day of the attack’ or ‘as long as I don’t behave in a certain way towards dogs’… I will be safe and will not be attacked again. One great technique is to arrange a meeting with an animal behaviorist or experienced dog handler or trainer to help educate the victim and ease some fears.
The next stage the person may go through is depression. Often people experience a loss of freedom as they now fear there are dogs behind every gate and around every corner, so this inhibits the victims social and outdoors activities, and further isolates the victim. This results in feelings of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. Helping the victim can be as simple as planning activities and making sure to be with them every step of the way. Once they are more comfortable in their surroundings, they should be able to gain more confidence.
The last stage a dog bite victim might go through is acceptance. At this stage the victim has finally made peace with the event and can move on. The best help at this stage is just support, love and a good listening ear.
If you or a family member has been bitten by a dog and are suffering from the emotional consequences, contact the experienced dog bite attorneys at the Law Offices of Andrew Ritholz today to discuss your case.