Witnessing a dog bite, especially a severe attack, can be deeply distressing. Serious attacks are usually sudden, can cause ghastly injuries and, of course, bystanders are at risk of becoming victims too. Being a true dog lover may only make the experience more shocking.

Despite the feeling of helplessness, there can be some active steps to take after an attack. They sometimes help the victim, the community and might go some way toward restoring the witness’s sense of wellbeing.

Staying safe and getting help

If a witness stays out of harm’s way, it could allow them to help instead of becoming another victim.

Calling 911 immediately after a serious attack may save a life or limit more serious harm. If the dog is securely away from the victim and the victim can discuss the attack, they may appreciate being asked what they need and whether to call an ambulance and/or the police.

Offering help as a witness

Engaging with the dog owner may not be helpful and discussing the attack with them in any way can affect later legal proceedings. It is usually best to interact with the victim and their families.

Any lawsuit is likely to benefit from witnesses, including those that can testify to the medical and financial effects on the victim and to the nature of dogs and dog bites. But an eyewitness to the attack can make a critical difference.

Consider giving your name and contact information to the victim or their family. They may not need your testimony or any other support and, given the experience they have endured, it is often important that they be in control. But knowing who saw the attack and understanding their openness to help can help, even emotionally as part of their memory of the experience.

Some witnesses file their own bystander claim

Particularly in cases of serious injury to close relatives, witnesses sometimes suffer psychological trauma severe enough to require medical attention. The impact on witnesses can be deep and lasting, and compensation to help cover the costs of recovery is sometimes recoverable thought legal action