From left: Nick Foley depicted 10 months after the near fatal pit bull attack in Cary, Illinois.
First Step Toward Adulthood
Cary, IL - Nick was 10 years old in November of 2005 when he was violently attacked by a neighbor's three pit bulls. He spent six weeks in a hospital. Since then he has had 17 surgeries, many of them plastic surgery. So much flesh was shredded from his right forearm that he could wrap a finger and thumb around it. Nick is now approaching the milestone of high school. His mother worries how he will handle the inevitable questions about the scars left from the attack.
Nick will attend Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock, where his older sister and brother, Maureen and Alex, are students. His siblings will help make the transition easier. But Nick understands that he will be leaving the comfort zone he found in Cary, where he rarely had to explain what happened because so many already knew the story. The attack and his fight to recover were the subject of a series of outstanding articles written by the Chicago Tribune.
"Now he's going to Marian, and most kids probably don't know what happened to him," his mother Polly Foley said. "He's going to be undressing for gym, they'll see his arms and legs, and there will be questions." Nick, however, seems bemused by her concerns -- he has grown expert at fending off questions with a wise-cracking "shark attack" response. Scott Hamann, his basketball coach says, "He doesn't want anyone to feel sorry for him, and he doesn't feel sorry for himself."
Now that Nick's parents' focus has turned away from helping him heal, they are trying to draw attention to the danger of vicious dogs. Nick was invited to tell his story before the Chicago City Council last year to help champion a spay/neuter proposal that would require all dogs and cats to be fixed by the time they are 6 months old. His parents, however, felt that Nick was still too young. But each time a pit bull attack is reported, the Foleys say they feel the urgency to tell their story.
When Polly Foley learned that the pit bulls of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick were being rehabilitated, she canceled her subscription to the national magazine that featured them on the cover. Polly Foley said she thinks often about the damage the pit bulls did to Nick, dogs that were the beloved pets of a neighbor and were not abused. "I just don't know how anyone could be comfortable with rehabilitating them," Polly Foley said. "Look at Nick. Is it worth the risk?"
The Cary Pit Bull Rampage
Cary, IL - The story began with a knock on a door. On November 5, 2005, Jourdan Lamarre came to the doorstep of the Foley house. She asked if Nick could help her sell Girl Scout candy and wrapping paper. The two walked over to the home of Scott Sword, the owner of three pit bulls -- Nick had played with the dogs as puppies. As they approached his house, Jourdan later recalled they heard growling. She hesitated but Nick reassured her. "It's OK," he said. "I know these dogs."
A small fist rapped on the door. It opened a crack. Instantly, the house turned into a riot of barking. All three dogs rushed toward the door, their nails clicking and sliding on the linoleum floor. Two dogs slipped through the doorway, but Sword managed to tackle Petey (who had recently begun to show aggression, a behavior that continued after being neutered). He felt a flash of relief until the dog whipped its head around and snapped, nearly severing Sword's thumb. Petey broke free.
Outside, Jourdan and Nick ran screaming when the first two dogs exploded through the doorway, followed seconds later by Petey. The animals knocked Jourdan down, tore through her two jackets and savaged her waist and left leg. Nick, who had made it behind a tree, returned to reach into the storm of teeth and claws, trying to pull his friend to her feet. Sword, bleeding heavily, managed to peel the dogs off the girl. Jourdan scrambled to her feet and ran away. The dogs took Nick down.
Sword tried again to pull the dogs away, even biting Petey's face so hard that he broke off the gold cap from a tooth. But the animals seemed lost in a blood lust, wriggling from Sword's grasp and clamping onto Nick's arms and legs. Sword lifted Nick in a bear hug and turned in circles, trying to keep him out of the dogs' range, but they leaped at the boy, tearing bits of flesh with every jump. As Sword tired, the animals latched onto Nick's arms. Sword felt Nick's bones snapping.
Meanwhile, Ed Lamarre had dialed 911 after Jourdan had come home screaming, her left leg flayed open. The paramedics had responded quickly, but the girl, in shock, didn't tell them about Sword and Nick. Simultaneously, Nick's father Brooks went to the Lamarre household in search of his son. Here he learned that Jourdan had just been attacked. He started toward Sword's house on Hawthorn. When he reached the street, he saw a large human shape sprawled on a lawn.
Brooks knew it was Sword. But an instant later, he noticed the dogs gnawing on the ankles of someone who lay underneath the man. They were tugging at a pair of sweatpants as if wrestling a chew toy. As Brooks peered into the murk, his mind swirling with fear, the faintest thought formed in his head. The ankles, those sweatpants ... But before his brain could complete the idea, before he could call out or take a step, the dogs charged him. Without a sound, they were on him.
Until the moment of Brook's screams, no one else in the neighborhood had understood what was happening. Some heard barking and shrieking, but figured it was only the sound of kids and dogs playing. Brooks' desperate shouts finally roused their attention. Debby Rivera saw the dogs and went to the end of her driveway, banging a heavy frying pan with a metal spoon. Gerd Gerdes and Jim Dunn ran to the skirmish with baseball bats and began swinging hard at the pit bulls' heads.
"[The dogs] were possessed," Rivera recalled. "[The bats] would knock them down, and like cartoon characters, they would shake their heads then go right back to biting even worse."
Injuries piled up as Gerdes and Dunn stood guard. It was Nick's mother that found the small body lying beneath Sword. "Oh my God," she cried. "That's my son, that's my son, that's my son..." She called out. "I'm not going to leave you. Mom's here." Before she could get closer, two of the pit bulls returned. They circled Sword and Nick, sniffing at them, but locking their eyes on Polly. She slowly stepped back. Fortunately, the dogs left. Polly collapsed on her knees and began to pray.
By this point paramedics realized there were more victims and made a second request to the sheriff's department. Deputies arrived to men with baseball bats, horrified neighbors and, on the lawn, two bloody figures. The Cary Fire Department and ambulance crews were already there. After starting with handguns, deputies immediately switched to heavier weapons -- a slug-firing shotgun and a CAR-15 assault rifle. They eventually shot and killed all three attacking pit bulls.
The rampage lasted nearly 1.5 hours before the last dog was shot dead. Six victims were rushed into emergency care that night; two were children who suffered massive injuries.