It was January 2010 and we were visiting my fiance’s family one Sunday evening. His brother’s girlfriend had just found out she was pregnant, so we were celebrating. We were all sitting around chatting and their dog, a staffordshire bull terrier, was curled up on the sofa next to me. She was a great dog, a typical staffie: boisterous, very loving and fabulous with children. We must have been there for about an hour when suddenly, without warning, I heard this awful snarling. Next thing I knew, she was on top of me.
First, she went for the side of my face near the hairline, but she couldn’t get any purchase, so she went for my mouth. She tore my face in a jagged line from the Cupid’s bow across the cheek. My top lip was left hanging off; there was blood everywhere. It was over in seconds.
I can’t remember much about it. All I can recall is the horrible snarling and then the weight of her as she pushed me into the back of the sofa. After she bit me, I remember somehow walking towards my fiance, Neil, who was by the door.
He rushed me to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. They gave me morphine, so I don’t even recall being in that much pain. My mum arrived later, and when she took me to the toilet I peeled back the bandages to have a look. I had been in and out of hospital most of the previous year with my 19-year-old son Liam, who has profound mental and physical disabilities. This was the final straw. I remember seeing my face and saying to Mum, “I feel like a monster. I don’t want to be here any more.”
The next day they put 50 stitches in my face and the day after that I was sent home. I couldn’t really eat. In the days that followed, I was in such shock, I would wake up in the morning and think it hadn’t actually happened. I had nightmares for two years – visions of the dog on top of me. When I went out, people would gawp and make comments, but having Liam, that was one thing I was used to.
I was in and out of hospital every few months. The skin on the top of my lip had died, so they did a graft. It left a great big lump on my lip, and because the corner of the mouth was tucked in and turned down, it made me look as if I was miserable all the time. I tried facial massage and also got some makeup done by a Harley Street beautician. She did semi-permanent lip-liner. She basically drew my lips on for me. It made all the difference.
Who knows why the dog bit me? I was sitting on the sofa between her and her owner, so maybe she was just being protective. My fiance’s family were devastated. They all apologized, but no one was to blame. The dog was put to sleep. No one told me for a long time, because they knew I would never have wanted that. I love dogs – I have two of my own. She was a beautiful dog. It broke my heart. It left me with huge guilt.
Justin Eronimus, 43, a retail consultant from Grove Park, south London
It was a sunny evening during the 2010 World Cup. My children were so excited by it, my wife and I decided to take them for a kick-around in Northbrook Park, near Lewisham. We had our two sons, who were four and five, and our five-year-old nephew.
I ran over and pulled my nephew behind me. I found myself face to face with the dogs. They showed their teeth – like a pack of wolves.
We got the children into a fenced-off play area. Other parents were also shielding their children in there. I called the police. While I was on the phone, I heard another commotion and turned around to see the dogs’ owner running after my wife waving a dog chain at her. As he caught up with her, she crouched on the floor and put up her arms to protect her head. Luckily, another parent grabbed the other end of the chain just in time. I realised he was attacking my wife because she had taken photos of his dogs.
He told us we would be dead next time he saw us, and ran off. I was still on the phone to the police and they asked which road he had gone down. So I went after him. Suddenly he ran at me and punched me in the head. The next thing I knew, all three of the dogs came at me at the same time. One went for my back, another my hip and the other my hand. I felt like they were trying to tear me apart. I was left with a big rip in my back and two deep bite marks. I’m absolutely certain he instructed those dogs to attack. Then he hit me one more time and they all ran off.
I was still on the phone to the police, and they told me to go back to the park where an ambulance was waiting for me. I was taken to Lewisham hospital.
The police took custody of the dogs and the case ended up going to crown court. His lawyer argued we were overprotective parents and we lost. Then it went to magistrates court and he pleaded guilty. By that time he was in prison for another offence. Two of the dogs were put down and the other was given to his parents and ordered to be muzzled. I was glad. The police told us it had cost £17,000 to hold on to those dogs during the year that it took for the trials to take place.
This whole thing wasn’t about me and my injuries. It was about what could have happened to the children.
Alison Edmonds, 44, a university administrator from Cawood, North Yorkshire
It was 1970, cup final day, and I was 18 months old. We had gone to my grandmother’s house in Oxfordshire to watch the match, so my mum could break the news that she was expecting a second child. My mum, my grandmother and I were sitting in the garden. I was on my mum’s knee and she was reading me a story. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, my grandmother’s puppy, a Labrador cross, jumped up and took a large chunk out of my face.
It was bad. The right-hand side of my face was ripped open. I’m not sure how many stitches I had, but I suspect it was more than 100. As the ambulance drove me to hospital, my grandfather took the dog to the vet to be destroyed.
My poor mother was devastated. As she was pregnant, it must have been so much worse. I have no idea how horrendous I looked. I have never asked and she doesn’t talk about it. I know my grandmother has never forgiven herself.
I ended up with a scar that starts at the top of my nose and travels in an arc to the outside edge of my eye and down to my mouth. People didn’t know how to deal with those things back then. If anyone asked what happened to my face, my mother would say, “Tell the lady what happened, Alison”, as if she was protecting herself from having to say it. I also remember having to wear prescription foundation. When I went to parties, my mum would sit me on the kitchen table and spend 20 minutes smearing it on. I hated it.
I spent 18 years under a consultant surgeon having reconstructive, cosmetic and plastic surgery. Three of my nerves were severed in the attack, which meant that until I was about 15, I couldn’t really smile.
Having my photo taken became one of the horrors of my life. I have a heap of family snaps in which everyone is having a lovely time and I’m looking like the world is about to end.
I can’t remember anything of the attack, and I’ve never tried to. I am OK with some dogs, but if you put me in a room with one, I’ll tell you within seconds if I’m staying or going. It’s not even whether it’s a big dog or dangerous breed; it’s just a feeling that I’m not able to define – a sense that I need to leave. I also really dislike tied-up dogs. Dogs that are tethered think they are at a disadvantage and are likely to be more of a problem.
Ten years ago I started work for a charity called Changing Faces, which believes that people with facial differences shouldn’t hermit themselves away. I suspect the attack made me a lot shyer than I would have been, but I have a lovely husband, two lovely children and a good job. I think it has probably shaped my entire life, but it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything.
Denis Davies, 34, a PR consultant from Reading, Berkshire
It was Bonfire Night and I had gone to my friend’s house down the road for a barbecue. I was seven. My parents weren’t there, but there were lots of other families. I grew up in South Africa, and we used to do this sort of thing a lot.
I remember going into the kitchen and seeing the family dog cowering. She was a rottweiler. I had known her all my life. I felt sorry for her, because she was obviously terrified of the fireworks, so I went over to reassure her. Without hesitation, she launched at me. She threw her entire weight at me and knocked me on to my back on the kitchen floor. I stuck out my hands to protect my face and she just went for me, mauling my arm.
A friend’s dad came in and somehow got her off – but she came at me again. This time, she went for my other arm. I ended up with four big bite holes on each arm and 32 tooth marks. I was hysterical.
My mum’s friend rushed me to hospital. This was the 1980s and the era of rabies, so everyone was very worried. I was given five or six injections directly into the wounds. They had to scrape the top layer of skin off each bite wound to clean it. That was just awful.
Afterwards, it didn’t bother me that much. When you’re a kid and you go through something like that, you get a bit of kudos. I had cool scars to show my friends. It’s only now that I’m in my 30s that it has really hit home. I guess it has slowly dawned on me what could have happened. Now when I see a dog that’s taller than my knee, I’ll have a minor panic attack and do everything I can to stay away from it. And when I see a rottweiler, I start to shake – they terrify me. I just think they look so angry. I avoid parks, because I know they’re places with dogs on the run. I gravitate towards places I know dogs aren’t around.
Nothing ever happened to the dog that attacked me. We could have pressed charges, but they were family friends, so we were never going to do that. I certainly never went back to their house again. We’re not really in touch any more. We moved back to the UK in 1990 and eventually, over time, the friendship between our two families died.
If I ever have children, I would never get a dog. I just think you can never really trust them. The dog that attacked me was well cared for, I had grown up with her, she was a family dog, yet look what she did to me. You can never tell for certain what they are thinking. I’d get a cat, though. You know where you stand with a cat.
Susan Gowland, 43, a market manager from Windsor, Berkshire
I was out shopping with my two sons in Windsor town centre. We were walking through one of the pedestrianized areas on our way to the Sony shop when we saw a jack russell tied to a drainpipe outside one of the stores. My nine-year old son walked past it first and then Harry, my 12-year-old, went past a couple of steps behind. The dog lunged and sunk its teeth into his leg.
I did what any mother would do – I grabbed Harry and got him out of the way. I can’t really remember how I did it – I think I may also have used my hand or foot to force the dog off him. A couple of shop assistants came running out and a lot of people stopped. Harry was hysterical. I said to someone, “Try and look at its tag.” The dog was still snapping, but a member of the public managed to read the phone number. They rang it and the woman who owned the dog was in Fat Face trying on clothes.
I asked the shop’s security people to get her driving licence from her and they photocopied it for me. Then I half-carried Harry to my local doctor just around the corner. He said we should go to hospital. Harry had three very clear puncture wounds and was bleeding.
If I could go back and get hold of that woman with her stupid dog, I probably wouldn’t be so polite. She had a vicious animal in a town centre with small children around. I think if you’ve got an animal that has a propensity to be nasty, you muzzle it. I was fuming. I have a dog – we have always had dogs – but I would never in a million years tie it to a lamppost and go clothes shopping.
For two weeks after the incident, my son wouldn’t leave the house. His grades dropped drastically and he was wary of walking to the shop at the end of our road. Even now, two years later, he is in therapy.
I wanted the owner prosecuted. I thought it would make an enormous difference to Harry – it would be a clear message that what happened wasn’t right. But the CPS weren’t interested. I thought, “She’s not getting away with this”, so I went down the private route. I hired solicitors and they contacted the woman whose dog it was. I had her driving licence, so she could hardly deny it.
Because she’s admitted liability, it’s fairly straightforward and now she is paying for all Harry’s therapy. The counsellor is a lovely woman – she comes at weekends and takes Harry out and puts him in situations with dogs to try to help him overcome his fear. He’s doing really well.