Walk with owner on a downtown street became fight for survival for local dog

Top photo, Valerie Tibbett and Dini relax on the deck of their Mountain Shadows Lane home, March 4. Dini has recovered from injuries received in an attack by three dogs during a walk in Friday Harbor Feb. 9. Bottom photo, the wounds required surgery, stitches and drains.                                                                                         - Contributed photo / Pamela Coffey
Top photo, Valerie Tibbett and Dini relax on the deck of their Mountain Shadows Lane home, March 4. Dini has recovered from injuries received in an attack by three dogs during a walk in Friday Harbor Feb. 9. Bottom photo, the wounds required surgery, stitches and drains.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Pamela Coffey

Editor's note: Under county law, dog owners are required to have their pets on a leash or otherwise under control. A dog that bites another animal or a person can be labeled a “dangerous dog” by the Sheriff’s Department; subsequent bites can lead to an order that the dog be euthanized.

In this letter, first published as part of a special report in the March 11 Journal, Valerie Tibbett shares her story about what happened when three dogs got loose while she was walking her pets in Friday Harbor.

The owner of the dogs that attacked hers has been cited with three counts of having a dog at large. The Sheriff’s Department is reviewing a “possibly dangerous dog” declaration.

* * *

By Valerie Tibbett
This is a letter of thanks to all those who came to our rescue when our two dogs were attacked by three pit bulls on Feb. 9.

On that Sunday afternoon, my partner and I went to see “Slumdog Millionaire” at the movie house — Pam went in to get seats and popcorn, and I leashed up our two dogs, Dini and Milagros, to take them for a walk before the movie started.

When we walked up a downtown street, we passed a parked vehicle and heard dogs barking. This is not an unusual occurrence, so the three of us just kept walking up the street. About a quarter of a block later, I heard increased barking, turned around and a large pit bull dog was racing toward us and, from the driver’s side of the parked vehicle, two other pit bulls came literally flying out of the window racing toward us as well.

I screamed for help but there was no one on the street. I now had five dogs, three of whom were trying to bite, perhaps kill, my dogs.

The three pit bulls left one of my dogs alone but concentrated on the other. I continued to yell for help but ended up being alone for about 30-45 seconds trying to keep the pit bulls from harming my dogs. It seemed like hours. There was growling, snapping, crying out, and dogs whirling all around. I tried to get in the middle to keep the pit bulls away from my dogs but they all decided to attack my one dog and leave the other dog alone.

A young woman came out of a local business and ran up the street, seeing that her dogs were involved in what was going on. She was only able to get two of the three dogs away from my dogs, but the larger of the three was nipping, biting and trying to harm my dog, Dini. I was trying to get him off of my dog — at which point he slammed into my dog, rolling her over and digging his face, biting, into her belly. At that point I bent down and caught him by the collar, lifted him off her and flung him behind me as hard as I could. I’m surprised I was able to do this because I’m not particularly strong, but adrenaline probably made me as strong as I needed to be.

My dog, Dini, was clearly hurt — she had an extensive gash on her belly and fat was protruding from the gash. She was bleeding. I got back to the theater and had them get my partner, Pam, from the theater to come out and help me. She tried to get in touch with any veterinarian who could come and help us. She was unable to contact any vet.

And this is where my dear friends and neighbors of Friday Harbor swung into action.

Aaron, who manages the theater, was able to contact Dr. Sonja Webster-Hills, who happened to be getting ready to go to a book-signing event. She told Aaron she would meet us at the vet office in 15 minutes.

My dear friend, Thrinley Di Marco, and her daughter, Jen Di Marco, provided much support and got things mobilized, calling the sheriff’s office and making sure that somehow a vet could be located. My friend, Jenn Harrington, came and stood with Dini as she was bleeding, and held her with love as she chanted a lovely Buddhist prayer. Janet Thomas was involved in all the arrangements and was so loving to us. She even came over to the vet office later to see how Dini was doing. A man named Ben Haney stood close with us as if to say, “I’m just here in case you need me to do something.”

Dr. Sonja examined Dini and determined that she had multiple puncture wounds over her body and that the tear on Dini’s stomach could not just have the fat pushed back in and then be sewn up. She was concerned that one of the pit bull’s teeth could have punctured Dini’s intestine and so she had to perform major exploratory surgery. She subsequently found, cleaned and stitched the puncture wounds — but one of them had torn eight inches of flesh from the chest wall and had to be sutured and drains were inserted.

What I really want to say here, is that despite the nightmarish occurrence, we were all aided by concerned and loving Friday Harbor citizens. People chose to help us rather than go to the movie, which was just about to start. Love, care, help, reassurance — all were made available to us so that we could get Dini taken care of by Dr. Sonja.

Dr. Sonja did surgery that evening and actually slept on a cot in her office so that she could keep helping Dini through the night. She slept on a cot and set her alarm so that she could continue to give morphine and I.V. fluids. Her husband, Andy, was there, too, giving reassurance and just being a warm presence in the office. And, finally, Dr. Michelle Loftus came to the vet office to actually help Dr. Sonja with the surgery by handling the anesthesia.

You were all magnificent and we couldn’t be more grateful. Dini just had her stitches out and is on the mend. Without each and every act of each and every one of you dear people, the ending would have been much different. Friday Harbor is such a great community and Pam and I and our dogs are grateful to be here.

* * *

A letter from a livestock owner
Spring is here, and so are spring lambs.

We had three uncontrolled dogs running through our property just this last week. Many dog owners are certain their dog would not kill or threaten livestock. One of our intruders was a dachshund — yes, a little wiener dog.

Just chasing livestock can stress them into shock or run them into a fence, eventually causing death.

See San Juan County Ordinance No. 19-2006, Section 4: At large dogs. The fines are hefty. Killing a ram: $500. Killing a ewe: $1,000. Killing a lamb: $250. Killing a dairy ewe: $600.

— Lisa Lawrence, San Juan Island

* * *

At A Glance
— From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2007, the Sheriff’s Department responded to 249 dog-related complaints; in 13 cases, a dog had bitten a human.

— From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, the Sheriff’s Department responded to 274 dog-related complaints; of those, there were 30 reported dog bites and one attempted dog bite. Three or four dogs were ordered euthanized, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

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