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Home » Community » Serious attack highlights lesson on approaching strange dogs
HOOVER’S VALLEY — Judy Kitchens doesn’t remember the actual attack, but she lives with the aftermath.
“I guess I put my arm up to try and protect myself,” she said.
Kitchens counts off the dog bites on her left hand and wrist — three on the top of her hand, two on her wrist and one on her palm. The dog’s teeth sliced through a wrist brace, which offered a little protection.
But it wasn’t her arm that sustained the most damage, or the most serious.
A gauze bandage on the front of her neck hides a deep gash held together with a line of stitches.
“It didn’t get my artery,” Kitchens said, putting her hand to her neck.
“But it still went pretty deep,” said her daughter, Leah Wehunt, who came in from Arizona to help her mom. “She could have died.”
Wehunt is a nurse and Kitchens is a retired emergency-room nurse, so they’ve seen a few injuries in their time.
The mother and daughter hope to locate the owner of the dog, which Burnet County animal health officials took control of after the attack. While they believe the owner should be held accountable, the real aim is to help with Kitchens’ medical bills, which include emergency surgery after the attack and home-health visits to help with changing the bandages and dressing the wounds.
Both Wehunt and Kitchens, however, want to remind others about the possible dangers of approaching a strange dog, whether roaming on its own or in somebody else’s control.
Kitchens recalled the details leading up to the Nov. 10 attack. She was at the Hoover’s Valley Country Store on Park Road 4 when she saw a man she knew from the area. He was chatting with another woman at the back of his pickup, but it was the dog in the back of the man’s truck that drew her attention.
“It was a good-looking dog,” Kitchens said. “It had a suede harness and matching leash. It looked as if somebody had been walking it when it got away.”
The dog didn’t belong to the man. He simply saw it running free, was able to catch it and stopped by the store hoping somebody might know who the dog belonged to. In Hoover’s Valley, everybody at some point in time gathers at the little store.
As a dog person, she found herself drawn to the animal. It was standing in the back of the pickup and appeared friendly. Kitchens slipped up to the back of the truck and began scratching the dog’s ear. And the dog seemed to enjoy the affection.
“But it was a strange dog, and you never know,” Wehunt said.
“The dog never growled, never snarled — nothing,” Kitchens said.
But then it attacked, biting her first in the arm and then the neck. She could hear the dog growl as it bit her.
The next 30 seconds, Kitchens can’t recall. The next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground looking up and people were gathered around her. Somebody was working on her neck and somebody else was calling 9-1-1. The dog clearly appeared agitated and barked at anybody who approached the back of the truck.
As the ambulance transported her to Seton Highland Lakes, and eventually to a Round Rock-area hospital, county officials took possession of the dog. With nobody to confirm the dog’s rabies vaccinations, officials were forced to euthanize it to test it for the disease. As of Nov. 18, Kitchens had not heard the results.
While she can’t recall much about the dog, other than it was white and likely a pit bull, Kitchens doesn’t want this to turn into a campaign against the breed. After working years in the emergency room, Kitchens said the worse dog bite she ever encountered wasn’t from a pit bull but a St. Bernard.
“And when it comes to the dog’s behavior, a lot of that has to do with its breeding, its upbringing and its environment,” Kitchens said. “This dog was out of its element. Its owner wasn’t around, and it had all these people it didn’t know coming up to it.”
At some point, Kitchens believes, the dog might have felt overwhelmed and scared and lashed out.
Unfortunately, she was the victim of the dog’s aggression.
Wehunt agreed that this shouldn’t be about the breed but about why people shouldn’t approach a dog they don’t know.
“This is especially true for dog lovers,” Wehunt said. “The first thing we want to do when we see a dog is go up to it and pet it. But even if it’s on a leash with the owner standing right there, you have no idea how that dog is going to react.
“If it’s a stray dog, call the sheriff’s office or animal control officer,” she added. “Don’t go get it yourself.”
Officials concur with Wehunt. Dogs, even those in the presence of their owners, might not be used to having people they don’t know handling or approaching them. Before petting a dog, always check with the owner. He or she can best advise you. And some dogs are fine with adults but might not be great around children, so again the owner can provide direction.
One of the most common things people do when they meet a dog is get down on the animal’s level and face to face. While this seems like a great way to interact with a dog, this can agitate or make some of them nervous. They might nip or bite out of anxiety, or even act more aggressively.
“And especially don’t blow in their face,” Wehunt added.
“A lot of it is just common sense,” Kitchens said. “And I probably shouldn’t have approached the dog, but I did. When you see a dog, especially a good-looking and friendly looking dog — and this one was — you want to go up to it. But you probably shouldn’t do that with a dog you don’t know or a strange dog.”
Wehunt and Kitchens are hoping somebody can help them identify the dog’s owner so they can get some assistance with the medical bills. Information may be emailed to Wehunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at (512) 756-8080.