Lifelong Disfiguring Scars
Candler, NY - Dannett Dillingham insists she's no hero. Any mother, she says, would sacrifice herself if she could help save her baby. Dannett's instincts kicked in when she ran down Gossett Road on Oct. 3, 2003 carrying a tree limb, hoping to beat away the 92-pound pit bull that had her 5-year old son in its teeth.
"Brandon kept on tucking his head down, trying to protect his face," she said. "And I just started screaming, hoping that someone would hear me and help us." The vicious attack was over in a flash. But it will leave lasting scars for a family that has no health insurance and faces a long, expensive recovery.
The day of the attack, Dannett was burning trash while keeping an eye on her two sons and their friend as they raced around the yard. When the boys stepped into the road -- they were headed down the street to get marshmallows for toasting on the fire -- Dannett saw a dog jump out of the woods across the street from the boys.
The pit bull knocked Brandon to the ground, clamping down on the boy's face. "It just wouldn't let go," Dannett said. The dog ripped off the boy's lip and tore through his nose, damaging the cartilage. The biting left punctures in the back of Brandon's skull and the "front of his face was just gone," his mother said. "There was blood everywhere."
When she started beating the dog, it lunged at her, attaching its jaws to the left side of her chest. She tried to break free by shaking herself as the dog hung on her with its jaws, its back legs dangling off the ground. The younger son and his friend watched in fear. "I kept on telling the kids to run back to the house," she said. "But they wouldn't leave me alone with the dog."
Neighbor David Williams heard screams that sounded different that day; he knew something was wrong. As soon as he got to the scene, he grabbed the animal's throat and threw it across the road. "My intention was to get it off her and have it come after me." And it did. The pit bull lunged at him, and Williams kicked it in the neck.
By then, the dog's owner, Harland Linville, had arrived and brought the pit bull back inside. Sheriff's deputies and paramedics arrived about nine minutes later.
Brandon will soon face the second of four surgeries. A piece of his lower lip will be cut and grafted onto where his upper lip used to be. For two weeks, he'll eat only liquids, unable to talk during the healing. Doctors have told the Dillinghams that Brandon's face will never look the same. He'll have to undergo more surgeries, as well, as his face grows.
After the first set of bandages come off
Last week Danette tiptoed around her home, her hip injuries make it hard to walk and sit. She said that Brandon has seen his new face but isn't quite sure what to make of it. His nose has two lines of stitches running across each side. His upper lip, a bumpy mass of purple and black, is in stark contrast to the remaining pieces of pink lip flesh.
"The first time he looked in the mirror, it scared him, and he asked if it was his face," his grandmother said. "He says he wants his other mouth back."
After spending two days in the hospital, Brandon came home for a week before he returns for his next surgery. For now, Brandon's injuries don't slow him down. He still loves to jump on his trampoline, slide around his house in Scooby Doo slippers and romp with his father.
The attack didn't diminish Brandon's passion for dogs either, his mother said. "He asked me why the dog wanted to bite him. And, he wanted to know if this dog is going to the devil. But, he still loves watching his video, "All Dogs Go to Heaven."
No help from the law
Grateful for the prayers they've received from neighbors and friends, the Dillinghams know they face a long road ahead. Dannett must go into surgery knowing that many of her wounds will result in disfiguring scars. Brandon's surgeries will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the family has no health insurance.
Chris Dillingham, Brandon's father, left his job of eight years at Southeast Industrial to start his own construction firm, Asheville Construction Services. The couple had applied for health insurance for the new firm and its employees, Dannett said. The week of the attack, the insurance firm had sent them more forms to fill out.
Dillingham gathered the information and had the envelope stamped and ready to be mailed on Oct. 4 -- the day after Brandon was attacked. Mission St. Joseph's Health System said they would work with the family, helping them apply for financial aid from the state and federal government. In addition, the hospital often provides patients with uncompensated care.
But as hospital representatives pointed out, the family will have other medical bills for prescriptions, doctors' visits and physical therapy. While the bills pile up, the Dillinghams focus on other things, such as how they can raise awareness in Buncombe County about dangerous animals.
What bothers the family the most, they said, is that there is little recourse to prevent an attack such as this one from happening again.
The pit bull that attacked Brandon and his mother was euthanized, but only because its owner requested it. If its owner had not done so, the dog could have continued living at the same house near the Dillinghams. Animal control could have forced the owner to enact certain measures, but they could not have euthanized the pit bull.
The Dillinghams were shocked to learn that owners of dangerous dogs that attack other animals or people are not often criminally charged.
"If you abuse an animal, it's a felony," Dannett Dillingham said. "But if your dog attacks or kills someone else, (often) there's not much you face as far as criminal charges."
Jennifer Brevorka from the Citizen-Times.com wrote the original article that DogsBite.org has edited down in size. The story exists in "plain text" on a random listserver. Someone wanted to keep this story alive. Now this story also resides on the DogsBite.org server. The Dillinghams will not be forgotten.