By Joe Tash
Kimberly O’Hara’s Yorkie terrier, “Bugs Boodle,” has always proved to be a magnet for children when she takes him for a walk.
What bothers the Rancho Santa Fe woman is that “so many children don’t ask if they can pet the dog. They don’t know how to interact with dogs.”
The encounters with neighborhood children prompted O’Hara to do some online research into dog bites. “I noticed an issue and when I looked up the statistics, I was really shocked,” she said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease control, 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and more than 800,000 dog-bite victims require medical treatment. Children aged 5 to 9 are particularly at risk.
O’Hara, an account manager for Hewlett-Packard, decided she wanted to help reduce the number of injuries caused by dog bites. The result is a children’s book published in November, “Bugs Boodle’s Book of Basics: Teaching Children to Interact with Dogs.”
O’Hara published the book through Telemachus Press, and worked with a San Diego artist Jorge Pacheco, who provided the illustrations. The book is currently on Amazon.com as either a hard-cover or an e-book, and on the Barnes and Noble website. It will also be available on I-Tunes soon. A website, www.bugsboodle.com,should be running by the end of December, O’Hara said.
Bugs Boodle is O’Hara’s first book, and she actually wrote it seven years ago. The time constraints of her full-time job kept her from bringing the book to print, however, until this January, when she resolved to complete the project.
O’Hara said she is constantly amazed by the number of dog-bite stories she hears when she talks to people about her book.
“I’m hoping it does very well. There’s a huge market for it… and a serious need for it,” she said.
O’Hara said the reinforcement of a children’s book that lays out simple, common-sense rules for interacting with dogs, in a rhyming format, may have more impact on children than admonitions from adults.
The book begins, “There are some things you need to know, this book has rules that we can show. So ask your parents if it’s okay, if you see a dog and you want to play.”
“Dogs’ parents want to keep pets safe. So make sure you ask first… and wait. And when you come to pet their pup, they want to know, you won’t pet rough.”
Along with asking permission before petting a strange dog, O’Hara said, kids should be taught not to disturb a dog that is sleeping or eating. O’Hara learned her lesson the hard way — as a child, she was bitten by a neighborhood dog.
Locally, the San Diego County Department of Animal Services investigates more than 6,000 reported cases of dog bites and attacks each year, according to the agency’s website.
Erin Short, a supervisor with the education department at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, said the center teaches children the ABC’s of meeting a new dog — “A” is for ask the owner and adult with you, “B” is for “be sniffed,” or allow the dog to smell you and “C” is for carefully pet the dog on its back, the safest spot for contact.
“There are definite boundaries all children should learn, but there’s a fine line of not causing fear,” said Short. When parents exhibit fear of dogs, she said, children often pick up on it.
“There are people who will run into traffic to avoid a dog so it affects their whole life,” Short said. Still, children need to learn when it is, and when it is not, okay to pet a dog.
“Not every dog you meet is going to be like Fido at home. You can’t run up and hug every dog,” she said.
The Helen Woodward center offers a program called Dog Smart that both helps adults and children overcome their fear of dogs, and teaches techniques for safe and proper interaction between dogs and humans.
The program, which uses specially trained dogs, is so popular that it usually has a waiting list, Short said.
The information in O’Hara’s book should prove helpful to local families, Short said.
O’Hara, who owns three dogs, grew up in Ohio and has lived in Southern California since 1984. She is trained as an electrical engineer, and lives with her husband, T.J. (Terry) O’Hara, an author and political satirist.
She said she has other ideas for future Bugs Boodle children’s books, but is keeping them under wraps for now.