Turns out they are man's worst friend.
Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons
"Post-Mortem Decapitation by Domestic Dogs," a 2011 research paper written by a team of Germans, is pretty fucking heavy reading. At one point, it recounts what happened when the cops showed up at a Berlin apartment after the neighbours complained about a barking dog and the stench of rotting meat:
“A 54-year-old man was found dead in his apartment. The body was decapitated and putreﬁed… Also, the man’s well-fed four-year-old German Shepherd dog was present at the death scene, and the entire apartment was soiled by animal feces and urine… dog food was readily accessible… the evidence included typical dog bite marks with decapitation and complete loss of the skull base… Toxicological analysis revealed the cause of death to be fatal intoxication from combined methadone and cocaine.”
That's not an unusual passage, either. There's also this:
“Policemen were called to the [Berlin] apartment of a 55-year-old man because neighbours had heard his two dogs barking loudly from inside the apartment for four days… When the door was unlocked, his putreﬁed body was found in the bedroom without the head and neck. The rest of the clothed body was intact, and the hands were undamaged. There were only a few traces of blood near the headless body as the blood had probably been licked up by the man’s two well-fed German shepherd dogs (eight and 1.5 years old). In the corridor and living room, investigators detected several small human skull fragments and crowned tooth remnants in piles of dog feces and puddles of vomit... Large amounts of accessible dog food were also found... Autopsy showed the cause of death to be fatal bleeding from ruptured esophageal varices, possibly due to the reported chronic alcohol misuse… From a forensic point of view, it was assumed that the two German shepherd dogs had completely devoured the head and neck of the corpse.”
This kind of thing happens every year all over the world. Every year these cases crop up somewhere in the world – someone dies of natural causes (or by his own hand), his face or head is nowhere to be found and there's a German shepherd nearby, along with plenty of uneaten dog food.
As someone who lives alone with a huge dog and has a propensity toward downers, I’m definitely afraid of having my best feature chomped off by my best friend. German shepherds aren't too far evolutionarily from wolves, yet the same people who freak out after being grabbed by a bum on the subway bring these toothy animals into their homes and then have to teach them not to shit where they eat and not to eat their own shit. It's not all that surprising that these canines are eating our dead faces whenever they get the chance.
Just ask the 78-year-old Austrian woman who was found without a face with her German shepherd in 2002, or the 66-year-old man from Moscow whose German shepherd ate most of him over the course of two weeks in 2008, or the octogenarian German shepherd owners whose gruesome remains were discovered in 2006. You could also ask the Canadian couple eaten in 2011 by their five Shetland sheepdogs and two mutts, or, from this year, the mug eating pug owned by an alcoholic in Wichitia, Kansas and the German shepherd whose favourite food was apparently the head of his Spanish owner.
I called Claas Buschmann, a forensic pathologist in Berlin who was one of the authors of the German paper, to learn how to protect myself from that smelly face-eating son of a bitch I keep in my house.
Dog vomit found at a decapitation scene.
VICE: So what's your job when you're not writing about horrific instances of dogs eating people?
Claas Buschmann: I do autopsies of every kind every day. I used to be a paramedic and I do a lot of research on the interface of emergency medicine and forensic medicine. For example, [I work on] resuscitation injuries, trauma mortality, preventable trauma, death and so on.
Where do face eating dogs come into the picture? There seems to be a lot of them.
We had one or two cases in our autopsy routine one year and so we decided to publish them, as it was an extraordinary finding. Our paper is not really a study, but more a case report. Postmortem animal depradation is a common feature in forensic autopsy routine, but complete decapitation is rare. The total number is hard to tell because the overall autopsy frequency is quite low in Germany. Only about six percent of deceased persons [receive] autopsies.
Should there be a PSA for drug addicts and the elderly? “Ditch the dog and get a fish if you plan to drop dead in your apartment” or something catchy like that?
Stay away from drugs, not from dogs. Try not to drop dead in your flat. But if you do, be sure you are not alone or at least have somebody who will notice that you are not around and call for help. A fish won’t take care of you as long as you are not in the water. Drowned people are also eaten by fish, it is normal. Some [dead] people were found because their dogs barked.
Your paper said that there was food readily available when the subjects were found. Why would they prefer human flesh?
The dogs start biting and eating as a form of animal instinct. They notice you’re dead by your smell and lack of reaction, and they come and lick the unclothed areas to wake you up. If you’re dead and there’s no reaction, they switch and enter the next level – from licking to biting. That’s all. It is not a matter of hunger. It is just a normal animal behaviour. Do not forget, we are talking about dogs, which are animals, although some people try to humanise them. They all originate from wolves.
Do you have a dog?
I do not have a dog, and I never will, but not for this reason. I am allergic to dog hair.
Maybe we can train dogs to dial 911 instead of waiting till we’re dead to eat our faces?
As I said, some people were found because of their dogs, and think of blind people that receive a lot of help from dogs, and so on. I don’t know, maybe there are such trainings. We only see the cases without training, if you know what I mean.
Sometimes when my dog yawns I'll put my hand in his mouth. Does that increase the likelihood of me being harmed?
I am a forensic pathologist, not a veterinary doctor, sorry.
More on dogs: