A mauling

MOST people of my generation will have been bitten by a dog, because 40 and 50 years ago dogs were free to roam and a dog on a lead was a rare sight. I still have the scars of a bite by a cattle dog while as a nine-year-old I tried to rescue my own dog, a kelpie, from the dog fight on the floor of the corner store. It was a wound that would today require a trip to hospital, but the magically frothing hydrogen peroxide and a bandage did the trick then.

In a sense we were safer when dogs were seldom confined to a yard and when only the most dangerous dogs were chained up. We knew how to respond to a dog’s aggression, we knew the difference between noise and serious threat, and dogs that were a problem were disappeared by the owner or quietly by a neighbour.

And we didn’t have dogs even remotely resembling the powerfully muscled, small eared breeds that have come to us from the US in the past two decades.

A bite is very different from a mauling, and you’ll have read in this paper of the fears of a young Mirrabooka woman that she was going to die in an attack just over a week ago by two American Staffordshire terriers. One of the regular contributors to my blog had a similar horrific experience seven years ago, and late last week at my request he described that in an email from China, where he works teaching English.

Tony Spence – his blog name is sid – had three American Johnson bulldogs, a muscular dog with a powerful jaw that had a long history as farm dogs in the US, at his home in Neath between Kurri and Cessnock, and on this day in October, 2005, he’d just played a game of tug of war with them when he began to sweep his shed. The oldest dog, a male started snapping at the broom then at Mr Spence, and the other two, a male and a female, joined in. The younger male latched onto Mr Spence’s lower leg and dropped him to the ground, then, to use Mr Spence’s words, it was on.

‘‘All three were having a shot at my ears and my arms copped a fair few bites as I tried to cover up,’’ he wrote in the email. ‘‘Things got a bit weird as everything started to go into slow motion, I could hear the cartilages in the ears being ripped and torn off, I could hear the muscles in my legs being ripped into. I could hear it all with crystal clear clarity. The dogs no longer seemed to be moving fast but I couldn't move, it was weird. For the first time in my life I thought I’d bought the ticket, I thought I was going to die. I have never been one for calling out to a god but I think I actually did call out to no one in particular, something like ‘Oh god!’, and I really did believe that I was not going to survive the day. These dogs weren't Jack Russells – all three came in at about 50kg and they were lean and muscled.’’

A neighbour who heard what he described as a man howling and rushed to look over the high fence told the Herald ‘‘they weren’t attacking him, mate, they were eating him’’. Neighbours were able to distract two of the dogs by throwing things at them from behind the fence and Mr Spence, who had appeared to be unconscious, got to his feet and with one dog attached to an arm managed to reach a door of the house and wrestle free before going inside.

Police shot the dogs, at Mr Spence’s request, and Mr Spence was flown by helicopter to John Hunter Hospital, where he was sewn back together with more than 200 stitches. Amazingly he left hospital 24 hours later, at his insistence, and he now has scars on his legs, arms, trunk and face, no feeling in his left calf, half a left ear and no right ear. Yes, he writes, it can be hard keeping his glasses on, and he has heard all the earless jokes.

‘‘My dogs were not a banned breed and nor should they be,’’ Mr Spence says. ‘‘I believe I had a rogue animal that figured he was the alpha dog and I was not.’’ Mr Spence says this older male dog, which he’d bought as a pup, had exhibited behavioural problems over the years and he believes he should have had him put down. He describes the other two dogs as great animals, with the female in particular gentle, calm and obedient.

Has man’s best friend become more threatening, more brutal? Have you been attacked?

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