An Introduction to Dog Bites

It was a clear day in 1993, when I was invited as a wide-eyed eight-year-old to play street hockey with the older guys in the neighborhood. Fourth and fifth graders normally don’t ask a second-grader to join them. This day they were a man short and they knew I could skate. As I went into the cul-de-sac around the corner of my house, it was like entering the Super Bowl. The older kids welcomed me, and the game began.

Ten minutes into the game, a young girl appeared from the house in which a new family had recently moved. She ordered us to leave, because this was her street. Street hockey had been played here for as long as I could remember, and how could this new girl possibly think that this was her street? But being the youngest and smallest boy, I let the fifth graders call out to her with names and swear words that I knew were wrong, but seemed funny at the time. While the older boys were distracted, I saw my chance to get the puck, twirling it on the edge of my stick as though I were Mario Lemieux. I never saw the girl go back to the house, open the door and say the word, “Attack.”

Hunting animals are interesting creatures. They instinctively will choose the smallest and weakest prey. When the 70 pound creature flattened me from behind, I remember the sound of my face scraping against the cement. “Who could be doing this to me?” I thought, while oblivious to the pain. Why would one of the guys check me from behind and beat me so heavily? Then I felt the blood gushing down the side of my face and neck and heard the growl. Instinctively I knew my life was in danger and covered my face, tucking my chin into my chest. Clenching my head in its jaws, the dog violently twisted as it tried to get to my throat. For two minutes, the older boys stood frozen in terror save one who had the presence of mind to run to a neighbor’s house and scream for help. Someone kept creaming “Oh my God” over and over. The growing pool of blood was warm, and suddenly I felt an odd weakness and heaviness.

I had suffered over forty puncture wounds to my skull, my right ear was torn in half and detached, and there were gaping holes in my neck and shoulder. The ambulance arrived in less than five minutes. Bypassing the closest hospital, I was taken to Children’s Hospital, where a team of pediatric surgeons were waiting. My father arrived, and with tears in his eyes said that everything would be fine. My last memory was of a woman questioning whether the dog was being quarantined.

Incredible surgery by a talented team of physicians reconstructed my torn flesh and may have saved my life. The ambulance driver even had the presence of mind to retrieve portions of my shredded ear from the pavement and it was reattached, with barely a noticeable scar. During my recovery in the weeks and months that followed, I became mesmerized by the physicians who had performed their magic, as well as the psychologists who helped me deal with the aftermath. While I still suffer many scars from that difficult day, I also carry an unbridled goal to one day be able to serve others the way that they served me. While in the long term this will mean medical school and specialized training, this article is a first step in that direction.

After the attack, my parents searched for resources to help me cope with the psychological scars, which today I know are a form of post traumatic stress syndrome. Unfortunately, despite the seemingly hundreds of books and pamphlets on preventing dog attacks, there are virtually no publications for children to learn how to recognize and cope with aftermath of a dog attack. Recognizing that there is a genuine need for such a resource, this article is designed as a tool for child victims of dog attacks and their parents, written through the eyes of a high school senior who can look back as a child and now understand the cause and effect of the dog attack on my own psychological development. Through sharing my trials and tribulations, hopefully other children can find easier paths to cope with the pain of a dog attack that extends far beyond the physical injuries.

Special thanks in writing this work to my family, who helped me through my most difficult time in the recovery, my teachers who gave me guidance and my dogs Maui and Lida, who showed me that dogs can still be man’s best friend. A special thank-you to Dr. Kay Jennings of the University of Pittsburgh who graciously volunteered her time and effort to assist me by supervising this project and reviewing my work.