Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Bull mastiff mauls 7-year-old

Sheldon and Carolyn Davies visited an animal shelter days before their attack. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sheldon and Carolyn Davies visited an animal shelter days before their attack. Photo / Doug Sherring

Carolyn Davies saved her son from being "murdered" by a 45kg dog. She tells Rachel Grunwell how.

It was meant to be a playdate, two kids getting together for fun.

But it turned into a day of terror, with a mother and son suffering the worst dog attack injuries ever seen by the surgeon who repaired them.

On April 10, Carolyn Davies took 7-year-old Sheldon to meet a new friend in West Auckland.

The boys were playing basketball in the sun, away from the homeowner's 45kg bull mastiff fenced off in the yard.

As Sheldon went inside to get a drink he looked at the animal and it attacked without warning. Carolyn remembers the dog launching over the fence to grab her boy "like a whale leaping out of water".

And she will never forget the moments that followed.

"The dog launched over the gate, grabbed my baby by the face and pulled him over the fence and ripped his face off.

"So I leapt on it to choke it, and I bit it and punched it. I tried everything to get it off my son. I put my own hand in its mouth so my boy could slide out from underneath it and then I yelled, 'run baby run!'

"He was so frightened, there was no sound. His face was hanging off and the neighbours came to hold his face back on.

"But then the dog had me. I was being thrown about by the elbow like a rag doll. It was trying to butcher me ... I thought 'please take my whole arm off', it was that painful."

Carolyn screamed to the owner to get the dog off her. "The owner said 'I can't'. I yelled, 'you have to or I'm going to die'."

Eventually the owner wrestled the canine off Carolyn, who ran to her bloodied son. They were taken to Middlemore Hospital where they were treated by plastic surgery registrar Gary Avery.

He said their injuries were the worst he had seen from a dog attack in his 10-year career.

Sheldon had to have a quarter of his face sewn back on. His lower lip, chin and muscles were reattached with more than 50 stitches.

Carolyn needed 30 stitches and two operations to mend five wounds on her left arm.

"They were incredibly brave," said Avery.

But Carolyn says she does not feel like a hero. "You do what you need to do as a mother. I saved my son's life, but you would, too ..." she said.

While in hospital, she got a call from an animal welfare officer investigating the attack.

The woman worked in the centre Carolyn and Sheldon had visited three days earlier to donate cat food and worm tablets.

Five days later, on the day they were discharged from hospital, the officer rang back to say the dog had been put down.

Carolyn drove to the centre to make sure. With her son in the waiting room, she went in to "kick" the dog.

She said there could have been no other outcome: "It tried to murder us."

The enormity of their ordeal only fully hit when they got home. Alone in her bathroom, she "broke down" and cried over her son's injuries.

Carolyn said the dog owner has tried to call her, but she never wants to see her again.

Sheldon is healing fast, thanks to his "angel" surgeon Avery. He's keen to get back on the rugby field and follow in the bootsteps of idol Dan Carter.

He's not been put off dogs - he patted a neighbour's a few days ago. Carolyn has postponed plans to start training to become a nurse until she regains full function in her arm.

She says some breeds should be banned and urged parents to take more care of their children around animals.

Tips to keep kids safe

Veteran trainer Carole Ellis reckons there are no bad dogs - just bad owners.

The Aucklander said some breeds were more likely to fight, but "any dog can bite because they're animals".

Her tips for safety around canines include:

* Understand their psyche. You've got problems when the animal starts thinking it's the pack leader.

* Supervise children around animals. When children get hyped, so does the dog.

* Get the owner's permission before patting a dog.

* Never directly look the dog in the eye.

* Ellis said if someone feared an attack the best response was to stand still or roll into a ball if there was time.

* "But if it locks on to a child, use any means to get the dog off that child," she said.

Review on hold

A national review of dog laws is on hold.

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide said his staff were dealing with the aftermath of the Christchurch quakes instead.

He promised the review would resume and wanted debate on current legislation. Hide said he wanted to know if more could be done to ensure public safety while recognising responsible dog ownership.

The Dog Control Act has been amended twice since 2003. Changes included introducing a class of menacing dogs, microchipping, and increasing fines.

The Auckland Council is also reviewing dog control rules and the public is likely to get a say this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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