Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mother, daughter: Pit bull was ‘playing'

FLORENCE - In a few terrifying seconds last Saturday, 11-year-old Shaylee Terry saw her puppy in the jaws of a pit bull and almost lost her ear.

A few days and 40 stitches later, the young Florence girl is ready to forgive the dog named Reaper who caused it all.

Ravalli County Undersheriff Kevin McConnell said the dog's owner potentially faces a citation for having a vicious dog and dog at large. The pit bull is currently under a mandatory 10-day quarantine at the Bitter Root Humane Association.

The incident happened as Shaylee and her 9-year-old sister Katelyn were walking to the post office with the family's little 7-pound Shiffon puppy at about 1 p.m. Saturday.

“The little dog's name was Abby,” said the girls' mother, Jessica. “We all called it Monkey.”

As they strolled down Holloway Lane and past the yard enclosed by a chain-link fence where the pit bull lived, neither girl paid the dog any notice.

“He's a really nice dog,” Shaylee said Tuesday. “I sometimes stop and he licks my face over the top of the fence.”

The girl's mother was at home - less than a block away - when she got the telephone call.

“I heard them screaming on the phone,” she said. “At first, I thought they were just fighting with each other, but then I heard her screaming, ‘Help, help, help.' ”

Terry bolted out the door. Barefoot and wearing shorts, she ran toward the commotion. By the time she arrived on the scene, the pit bull had Abby in its mouth and Shaylee was bleeding from her torn ear.

The girls had apparently tried to protect their dog from the pit bull when it came up behind them suddenly by holding it close to their chests.

“We didn't see the big black dog coming,” Katelyn said. “It just came running after us. I think it wanted to play with Monkey.”

Shaylee scooped the little dog up in her arms first, but dropped it when the pit bull bit her ear. Her sister picked the dog up next and held it close. The pit bull bit her arm and she dropped the dog.

The pit bull picked up the smaller dog and shook it. He still had the dog in his mouth when the girls' father arrived.

“When I got there, he was violently shaking Abby in his mouth,” Jessica said. “It was like a dog would shake a stuffed animal. My husband arrived and kicked it to get Abby out its mouth.”

Once the pit bull dropped the little dog, Jessica said the pit bull kept jumping up and trying to grab it.

“He wasn't violent or vicious at all,” she said. “He's just a puppy. He was just trying to play. ... His owner isn't at fault, either. He is a very kind man and he felt bad about what happened.”

The family took the dog to Missoula, where they claim a veterinary clinic refused to examine it without money up front. They ended up going to the Humane Society of Western Montana, where a veterinarian told them the dog was too far gone to save.

They had it euthanized.

Both of the young girls said Tuesday they didn't want the pit bull to be put down because of the incident.

“He was just trying to play with Monkey,” Katelyn said. “He was just trying to play like with a chew toy. I was really scared. I was shaking pretty bad when it was over.”

Her sister agreed.

“I was holding Monkey when he jumped up on me and bit my ear,” Shaylee said. “He didn't do it on purpose. He was just trying to get Monkey out of my hands. ... Monkey just looked like a little toy to him.

“My puppy died. She was attached to me,” Shaylee said. “I don't think that dog should die, too.”

Her mother hopes that people will listen to her.

“She was the one who was hurt the most,” Jessica said. “We should all care about her feelings. I've never seen a child who cares so much about animals. We want people to know that this wasn't a vicious attack. It was a freak accident.”

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