My Beautiful Mother” by Ruth Halleran
When I reminisce about my favorite Christmases past, memories flood back from my childhood. I recall my children’s childhoods, past relationships, holidays with grandparents, and friends and there are the good memories and the bad. One of my most favorite Christmases was more recent. This is not because I received everything under the tree that I wanted. Nor was it because everyone I know and love was healthy and so was I. They weren’t and I wasn’t. It was not even because everyone was together for Christmas Day. We weren’t. All six of my children, my son-in-law, grandson, and my “adopted” son were home for the Christmas holiday. My mother was with us, as she was most holidays. Everyone arrived the week after Christmas. That was when we celebrated and it was, without question, perfect.
On this holiday, my first and only grandchild was at the perfect age to begin to understand and enjoy the spirit and celebration of Christmas. I finally had a loving, supportive boyfriend that my mother and children approved of. With her wry wit, my Mother told me to keep him! Everyone completed their shopping ahead of time, which is something that rarely happens in our large family. The appointed chef was home and eager to create exquisite cuisine for us to devour. Did I mention the perfect grandchild was there? No one had to work remotely or even work at all. Our calendars were cleared to do whatever we wished. There were no outside obligations or commitments. There was something different about that Christmas. The energy was vibrant, more positive, and less stressful. There was love in the air, hope, kindness, happiness and contentment. God’s grace covered us and He orchestrated and harmonized our visit. I had no idea this would be our last holiday as a complete loving family with my Mother’s presence.
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. ~Laura Ingalls Wilder”
We spent that time talking to everyone, laughing at each other and at ourselves, teasing playfully, encouraging, and listening to each other. We spoke of God, faith and my Daddy who passed the year before. We talked about siblings, children, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, grandchildren, and grandparents. We had a grand family. We shared dreams, ambitions and even stories of beloved pets, Hatteras Island and loved ones who are no longer with us. We recalled friends near and far, community news, and babies. We debated politics, spoke of how fun college life is, hiking the Appalachian Trail, crazy California, mommy life, daddy life, beautiful toddlers, and dating. We chatted about feelings of love, forgiveness, disappointments, failures, successes, joys, Starbucks and the stinking cold. We played board games and basketball. We jammed to “Rockband” and boogied down with “Just Dance”. My mother could break it down and beat every single one of us! We laughed and we cried together during talks and during movies. Our holiday was so delightful that my oldest daughter and her family, as well as my mother, extended their visits by two days.
Sunday, January 6, 2013, everyone packed up and headed home. The departure of family was especially difficult after this holiday reunion. There had not been a single sibling argument, not even about politics! I’ll never forget hugging my children goodbye, which is always sad. A poignant moment with my mother is etched deeply into my memory as she gave me a tight, meaningful farewell hug. She was so tiny, so petite and yet so strong and brilliant of mind. That was my Mother. Her intelligence and insight could be astounding at times. She received her Master of Science in Library Science from UNC Chapel Hill, but like so many librarians, she never stopped learning and sharing her knowledge with anyone who has a thirst for learning. My mother could talk intellectually about any subject that anyone wanted to converse about. I took her lovely hands in my own and thanked her for a delightful, meaningful visit. I told her how thankful I was that she was going to stay with me when I started chemo again. I told her how much I loved her before saying goodbye.
“Here is to the nights we felt alive, here is to the tears you knew you’d cry, here is to good-bye, tomorrow is going to come too soon.” unknown
I had taken the visit early on as an opportunity to tell my mother how proud I was to be her daughter. I told her all the things that I loved and admired about her. I told her that she was the most beautiful person I had ever had the privilege to know, inside and out. I shared that she was the smartest, most conscientious woman I knew. She smiled when I described her loving, compassionate, forgiving, humble heart. I let her know how thankful I was for her steadfast love and support and her constant, daily influence in my children’s lives. I was grateful that while we didn’t always agree, we could always show love and respect for one another. Every single day, I wanted to be just like her. My own daughter, her oldest grandchild sat nearby, smiling silently as my mother and I had that conversation through tears. I think she must have understood the exchange between us. God arranged that moment for all of us; there is not a doubt in my mind. All these things I confided in her as daughter to Mother, from my heart to hers.
“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” George Washington
Two days later, I noticed I missed a few back-to-back calls from my baby brother. I then received a 911 text from him to call ASAP. I got the text ten minutes after he called and returned his call immediately. I was terrified that there was an emergency with one of his children. He had married my dear friend, she has two beautiful daughters that my kid brother loves with all his heart, and they have a son that was almost a year and half old. All I could think was, “Dear God, please let the children be okay. Please let the children be safe.” My mind raced as it went through scenarios of what the emergency might be: a car wreck; it had to be! Why wasn’t his wife calling? I distinctly remember praying to our Lord in Heaven to let the children and her be okay.
My brother didn’t even say hello when he answered. He cried my name into the phone. “Ruth!” He sobbed, uncontrollably, and I couldn’t make out what he was trying to tell me. Something terrible, so unimaginable, had occurred. My mind rushed through a dozen nightmares, and he finally said it clearly enough for me to understand: “My dog killed Mom, Ruth. Momma is dea…” his sobs took over once again. I was in complete and utter shock. My mind struggled with disbelief. There was no way a “dog” could have killed anyone! At that moment, my own dog was pressing against my leg, wanting her ears scratched. That was unheard of and only happened on television. My little brother was obviously pulling a prank that was just disgusting! I told him so, too. I told him that it was sick and disgusting and not funny at all and he had best never joke like that again, not ever! He cried into the phone with such pain, I felt it. He said, “I’m so sorry Ruthie. I’m so sorry. She’s gone. Momma is gone!” He wailed such a miserable way, and again called me “Ruthie”. He never called me that! I heard voices in the background that sounded like the police. This couldn’t be! My mother was a well-educated, kind, and gentle person. She loved animals and was so good to them. I did not want to believe it. I had just slipped into a living nightmare. With a sinking heart, I knew at that very moment, his words were true. His pain seeped through the phone and engulfed me. The news sucked the life out of me, the air out of my lungs, and I struggled to breathe. Life would never be the same.
“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – Nathaniel Branden
My thoughts were all over the place. How could this be? She was just standing right there in front of me, dancing around with the children. She had just wrapped her arms around me and told me that she was excited to be able to stay with me during the worst of my treatments and told me how proud she was of me, how pleased she was that my career was going well. She shared her thoughts of how incredibly amazing my children were. Apparently, I spoke my thoughts out loud, saying it just couldn’t be true that she was just there. I drew attention from everyone in my house. As I let out a cry, my knees buckled and I sank to the floor. I told my brother that I loved him. I repeated it over and over. I told him that I was on my way. I told him that I would be there by morning; I’d drive through the night. I kept repeating to him that I was on my way to him and that I loved him so very much. All he could say was, “Hurry! Just hurry! I love you. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
My heart hurt more for the pain I heard in his voice than any pain I have felt in my entire life. It was the worst feeling I have ever experienced and I was grossly familiar with heartache. My heart felt too heavy to carry, too difficult to breathe with. In my heart, in a split second, my brother went from being the loud mouthed, pranking adult brother to my little kid brother, vulnerable, injured, hurting, who needed me for protection, needed me to fix things, needed me to simply love him. And I did just that.
“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” C. S. Lewis
As my brother and I finished the conversation, I realized that my oldest son’s friend, Timothy, was standing in front of me, telling me everything would be okay, asking what he could do. He hugged me as I shook and just cried. He offered to let my oldest son in Boston know and I let him. I picked up the phone to call my Father and was suddenly overwhelmed with grief. My daddy had died over a year before. What was I thinking? My next thought was my oldest daughter, who was exceptionally close to my mother, and a daily part of her life. I didn’t want her to hear about it through Facebook. The close friends Timothy called showed up to help me. Darryl hugged me and went straight to helping with my children still at home. Bane, my “adopted son”, gave me a genuine hug. I fell apart for a moment and just sobbed. He was very kind and compassionate towards me, a complete switch from his typically hard exterior. True to his good nature, he helped with the youngest children.
When I called my oldest daughter, Victoria; her husband answered and was crying uncontrollably. I asked him how they knew and he said that their aunt had called them very upset. I told him to put my “baby” on the phone; he did, and she could barely talk she was so hysterical. I told her that I was on my way and that I loved her so much. Oh, how I wanted to be right there with her! While we were talking, I sent a text to my boyfriend telling him Mother was gone. I then called my daughter in California and could not reach her, so I called my closest cousin, April, who is like my sister, and after her shock and pain, she went to work “centering” me. We made a backup plan for if I found that I couldn’t drive the nine hours from Hatteras Island to South Carolina that she’d come get me. She was going to immediately call another cousin to go right away to my aunt’s house and tell her about my mother. April was so incredibly strong. I let my closest friend where I live, Dayana, know. She and my mother got along beautifully and had loved one another. One of my Mother’s sisters called me and just sobbed. I had never seen her in anguish before. It was heart breaking and made me cry worse. I couldn’t understand most of what she said through her sobs. Honestly, it scared me; worried me, no terrified me, for her sake. I just told her that I couldn’t understand her but that I knew about mother and I was on my way. I told her that I loved her and had to hang up to call my children. I sent April a text and told her to get someone to my aunt ASAP and she did.
I tried Ashley (my second child) again, in California, and she answered. I told her the devastating news and she cried terribly. She agreed to call the other relatives immediately. I spoke to my boyfriend who was in the process of making arrangements to meet me in South Carolina from Pennsylvania. He helped me focus on the logistics- details of travel, children’s travel, adult children’s travel and monetary needs, rescheduling work, etc. By this time, people on my little island were hearing our mortifying news and reaching out to offer to drive me, keep our pets, housesit, anything at all. My son, Andrew, let his boss know that my mother had been killed. His bosses took Dayana a huge variety of snacks, drinks, etc. to give us for our road trip. It was the most thoughtful gesture, and has really stuck with me.
At some point, I spoke to my other brother, Chad, and he promised me that he would stay with our brother. He had no intentions of letting our now fragile, baby brother out of his sight. He told me that the children were okay, gave me a few minor details of the attack, said he was told mother did not suffer (I later learned that wasn’t accurate). He said he, himself, was going to be okay. He was helping my baby brother give an account to the police along with the veterinary history and dates of vaccines. He told them about the fact that the dog had killed their Siberian husky earlier. The Humane Society and a local vet had told them to “fix the dog” and that would help with aggression and behavior problems. He said the police and coroner’s office were talking to the children and neighbors as well. He instructed me to drive carefully and pull over if I needed. He told me he loved me and vice versa. We both shared a very brief moment of tears, then went right back to concentrating on taking care of others, something we both do well. All this time, my oldest son’s dear friends, Darryl, Timothy, and Bane were packing our bags and loading my car for the trip to South Carolina, bless them.
My head was still spinning as I went to tell my youngest children that their most devoted, most cherished grandmother was dead. The last grandparent that they had a relationship with, the one who made an effort to be a part of their lives, who called and talked to them, who sent them cards, and emailed them, visited with them, kept up with what they were doing and enjoyed, the one who invested time and energy and was a part of their lives on a regular basis, the one they knew would always be there for them no matter what, was now gone. To say that was difficult is an understatement. They asked no questions at the time, and just cried innocent tears of sorrow. It was gut-wrenching. I was so confused. How does such a gentle, compassionate woman die from a dog bite? I had so many questions.
We headed out expediently, within an hour of my brother’s call, meeting Dayana on the way out. When she hugged me, I fell apart again. She didn’t want me driving myself, but I needed to. I wanted the impossible, to “time warp” to my brother, to comfort my daughter, to see my mother and somehow help her not to be dead. I knew it was impossible and sounded childishly ridiculous, completely out of touch with reality, but I begged God for it anyway. I kept thinking about my mother and wondering how in the world a dog could hurt her.
My phone rang off the hook with offers of sympathy and people with questions I didn’t have any answers for. I spoke to Christopher, my oldest son, and he broke my heart all over again. He was crying, which teenage boys aren’t supposed to do, don’t you know? He was making arrangements to fly to South Carolina right away. He, too, was very worried about his uncles and said he was going to call them. He was worried about his cousins. He was also worried about every single one of his siblings. He asked about everyone by name. He asked how I was doing. He told me that he loved me and that we would get through this. He was so mature and considerate, putting everyone else first. It was the only comfort I got, knowing that such an admirable part of my father was right there in my son.
I called a dear friend of the family, who loved my mother, and he talked to me for what seemed like hours. His compassion and empathy showed no boundaries. He was also an enormous help in understanding the legal process, how to best protect my brother and sister in law (who would never in a million years hurt my mother), and he continues to be supportive today. I talked to April and my boyfriend, Greg, and all of my adult children a few times during my nine hour drive. Eventually my three children in the car with me asked what, exactly, had happened to their beloved Mana (the name her first grandchild gave her). I chose my words very carefully when explaining that the dog had attacked and killed Mana. They were crushed, confused, and bewildered. Being animal lovers, and huge dog enthusiast, they didn’t understand how something like this could occur. They were confused about how a family pet, a family dog, could actually kill someone and they didn’t understand why. They knew their Mana loved dogs and was better than the dog whisperer, so why would any dog want to hurt their Mana? They also knew and loved the dog, Mica. They had played with her many times, petted her, sat and cuddled with her. They later told me that they felt enormously betrayed by the dog. I drove through what seemed like a never ending night and met my family at my brother Chad’s house the next morning. That initial meeting was only the first of many pitiful moments with my two brothers.
My sisters in law went with me to my brother’s house to clean the crime scene up. The media was camped out across the street when we got there and I asked the next door neighbors to tell them to get lost. My sister in law shared with me that it was her dog that had done this and she didn’t know how anyone would ever forgive her, how she would ever forgive herself. I told her that we knew her and that she loved our mother and was very kind and loving to mom. I reminded her that she made my mother a part of her family and mother felt loved at all times, as well as welcomed in her home at any time. She shared concern for my brother, wondered if he would blame her because it was her dog, and she thought my mother’s family would hate her for this. I told her that she was not allowed to care about what others say. We all love her and will stand by her side. She did not want this to happen anymore than the rest of us. She was a great pet parent and loved her dogs. She took good care of them, always doing what she was told to raise them well. She would not hurt my mother, not ever. My mother adored her and the children.
Heather told me things I already knew, that she had always defended pit bulls and told people many times that pit bulls are not violent if you raise them properly. She told me that she’s argued with people before about pit bulls, how pits are such good dogs and loving pets. She said that all this time she had been defending them. Now unbelievably her dog killed her husband’s mother and could have killed her baby, her children. I reminded her that we all thought the same thing. She said that she would never defend the breed again. I knew that this was not normal for dog attacks. My children have been bitten before by a neighbor’s dog, or friend’s dog. I’d been bitten before breaking up a dog fight at a park before. I mean, sometimes folks might need a few stitches, maybe, for a dog bite. But mauled to death? My heart just felt wrung out. I wanted to take this responsibility away from her and shoulder it myself. I felt such pity for my sister in law, such remorse. And I didn’t understand how everything we’d been told by “professionals” was that pit bulls are what you raise them to be. It hit me like a baseball bat to the head. That was a lie and that lie just killed my mother! I felt sick and wanted to vomit. How could professionals we trust to give us advice about our pets be lying to us and getting away with it?
As I walked through the house to the scene of the attack, there were bloody paw prints in the carpet. I remember wondering what in the world had gone on in this house. When l arrived at the very spot my mother died the evidence said it all. My sister in law had warned us that it was bloody and she was not exaggerating. Words can’t describe what was in front of me with degree of accuracy or with any real understanding and comprehension of the sheer and utter terror and mutilation that had occurred here. I could feel all of the oxygen leave the room as I approached the area. There were still a few pools of bright red, wet blood. I was aghast at the sight. There was blood everywhere; the carpet was saturated, the furniture was splattered, and the wall was covered in my mother’s blood. I was stunned and had to concentrate on breathing. As I took the sight in, I was chilled to the bone at the tiny handprints in the blood on the wall. I could not speak, but pointed the child’s handprints out. My sister in law told me that her oldest daughter had heard my mother let out a quick yell, and when she checked on mom, the child had tried to pull her pet off my mother. My twelve-year-old niece had braced herself against the wall in a failed attempt to pull the pit bull off of my mother. What she must have seen…what she must have felt…that precious child was so brave! Right then I thought my legs would give out under me. Dear Lord! The dog could have turned on her and killed her! Right then and there, I thanked God that my nieces and nephew were safe. I tell God everyday how thankful I am that he spared their lives that day.
There were some toys sitting around that had blood on them so we simply threw them away. I picked up one to place in a garbage bag and thought I would die from agony. There was a piece of flesh stuck to it. I might as well have had a knife stuck in my heart. That was a piece of my mother! I was aghast. What in God’s name had caused this dog to do this to my tiny little mother? That is when the reality of what my mother had actually experienced sunk in. She had been savaged as if she had been attacked by a wild lion! She died in the jaws of a pit bull that we once loved as part of our family. We decided the clean-up job was not something we were equipped to do, so we gathered a few things the family needed and left. On the way back to Chad’s house, we had to pull over for me to throw up. I had a nice little cry session and didn’t care one bit who saw me on the side of the road vomiting and sobbing. All I could think about was what my beautiful mother must have gone through, what her thoughts might have been.
I put myself in charge of calling cleaning companies to clean my brother’s house. When I found one that had personal experience with a death at home, we met them at the house. They replaced soaked drywall, flooring, subflooring, and furniture. The flooring through most of the common areas had to be replaced as well, because the dog tracked blood. The cleaning company handled everything, even the insurance claim. My brother and his family were staying at his mother-in-law’s house until most of the work was done. They went weeks with the house turned upside down. It was a process that I had never considered before.
The funeral home was compassionate and considerate, they had long standing history with our family, and some had known my mother all her life. I insisted on seeing my mother that day, and they didn’t like that at all and were protective in the name of my best interest. The funeral home explained that they didn’t have her prepared for viewing. They were reluctant, but I simply explained that I wasn’t asking, nor was I giving them a choice. I wanted to see her gentle, loving hands right then and there. I remembered mother’s fingers were long, thin, and graceful and her hands were always so soft when she comforted us. Her nails were naturally long and perfect. I had held her dainty hand through most of my children’s births, and through good times and bad times. I wanted to see my mother, to hold her hand one last time. I think now that I probably needed to see her for it to be real; to actually believe she had been “killed” by a dog. I could not wrap my brain around the fact that my sister in law’s sweet, loving dog had snapped and actually attacked mother so violently that it took her life.
They warned me of the graphic nature of the attack, but no verbal explanation can fully prepare you for such horror. My brothers would not let me go alone. They also needed to see our mother. We were shown to a room where they brought mother. I’ll never forget the man from the funeral home didn’t even look at me, but kept his head down, and looked pitiful, pale, and just sad. That young man had seen mother the night of the attack; how horrible. He also worked with the coroner’s office and had to help with the scene, as well as talking to the children about what had happened. I felt so badly for him.
Half my mother’s head was draped with a sheet. There was no mistaking the damage underneath, but when I looked, it struck me that she had actually been mauled, literally ripped apart and eaten by a savage animal. Her arms and hands had bite marks all over them, like puncture wounds from the vicious dog’s teeth sinking into her and there were hundreds of them! My mother’s hands did not look like hers. Most of her face was missing on the right side, her ear, her scalp looked detached or loose, and it looked like her spine protruding from the back of her neck when I looked closely. She appeared to have not a drop of blood in her body. It was in that room that I was cruelly slapped with overwhelming reality of what my teeny tiny, gentle mother had felt: the actual attack itself, how she must have hurt, the excruciating pain of it all, the confusion, her fear, her battle to stop the dog, to protect my nephew and nieces, her realization that she was going to die and the children were going to be left unguarded and alone, her cries, her prayer to God, and it unnerved me. This wasn’t a lion that had killed my mother. It was a domesticated pet, a dog that had been loved, treated kindly, yet she looked like she’d been used as a chew toy and eaten by a wild beast. I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out of there and I left.
They “knew” firsthand the dog’s history and they went on national news and “lied.” Ruth
My mother’s death was a very hot topic in the media because, as the nature of pit bulls will have it, two other unrelated attacks occurred around that time in South Carolina. Dreamer Denise Rice, in Spartanburg, SC, was attacked by three pit bulls and almost killed. Then, a 6-year-old girl was riding bikes with her father when they stopped to pet a dog being walked. The father asked if the dogs were friendly before he petted one of the dogs and the owner said they were, but as soon as the little girl went to pet the dog, she was mauled by the pit bull. The Humane Society went on television the day after my mother was killed and was responding to being asked about my mother’s death. The woman stated that it wasn’t the dog’s fault, that the dog was just protecting her pack. The Humane Society of Greenwood County, SC, didn’t speak to a single family member. How, exactly, did they come to that conclusion, especially since we suspected mother was protecting her grandson from the dog? I later learned that this local shelter knew, firsthand, the dog’s history and they went on national news and lied. I was livid. Who the heck did the Humane Society think they were? My mother wasn’t some outsider; she was in that home three or four days a week. What was the dog protecting its pack from? A grandmother who read to her grandchildren, or rocked them, or loved them? And what kind of dog protects her “pack” by killing someone they knew, then going after the children? I’d also later learn that her autopsy revealed mother was protecting her young grandson from being attacked. The dog had tried to attack a part of its daily PACK!
I was humbled by the outpour of love, support, and sympathy our friends, family, even strangers had for our family. I was concerned with humanity when I saw the way the media reacted (lying and saying the owners of the dog didn’t tell police that the pit bull had killed a dog previous to this attack) and the reaction of people who love and defend pit bulls. I was bombarded with hate emails, messages on Facebook, etc. Even some family members said cruel things without thinking. My Uncle David, from my daddy’s side of the family, made a statement to the press. I don’t remember talking to him about it, except that Chad and I asked him to please tell people thank you. I didn’t care what he said, maybe thank everyone for their concern, and please let us mourn in peace; we needed to keep the press from knocking on our doors again. They were very insensitive. We were especially concerned for the elderly members of the family. April stayed by my side for a week and kept me sane. She helped with anything that I needed. My boyfriend was amazing. My children were incredible.
The worst part of the entire ordeal was viewing mother before the funeral. Her remains were not suitable for an open casket, but we wanted to be considerate of my mother’s sisters and a very few family members that would want to say their goodbyes. It was horrible. The mortician had done a wonderfully impressive job recreating my mother’s face, etc. The young man that had done the work grew up a few houses down from my children, and he was one of many children I watched grow up. He’d known my mother well so I know that his job was especially difficult. Mother’s face had been so badly damaged that the “reconstruction” looked fake and it was alarming. I called Chad and he brought a scarf for her head. He joked about our mother always wanting a piece of our clothing that smelled like us as he put his scarf around mom’s head, covering most of her right face and scalp. It was true that as we got older and went away to school, wars, our own lives, mother seemed comforted in having an article of clothing that belonged to us.
My baby brother did not handle the visitation well at all. He wanted to see her injuries but Chad and I stopped him. He got very upset with us, and we all cried together. His tears were streaming down his face and causing the makeup covering mom’s face to run. You could see that most of her right face was artificial; there was some dried blood in her hairline, her scalp and around her ear. It wasn’t overly noticeable, but my brother was trying to cup mom’s head, her sweet face in his hands. He was trying to comfort her telling her he loved her so much, and how he was so very sorry. He saw the damage and went to move the scarf and Chad and I stopped him. He got furious, pushing us away. He needed to see, as if he wanted to punish himself more than he already had. We could see what remained of an ear, and the back of her neck was missing and void. Her arms had been taped up underneath her clothing so if you wanted to hold her arm, it was like holding a manikin. My brother was deeply upset seeing her this way and if I had it to do over I would have never allowed a viewing to take place. It was the worst feeling in the world, losing mother to such a horrific attack and not being able to take my brother’s pain away. He has mother’s gentle spirit and her tender, loving heart. He’s such a nice person, everyone loves him and he has friends everywhere he goes. But in that room, at that moment he blamed himself for my mother’s death and hated himself. He would have traded places with her in a split second. It was horrible and I regretted the viewing terribly.
Mother’s funeral was chaotic and busy. With the media coverage, people near and far heard about her death. I was introduced to people that went to grade school with my mother, and church as a child, had mother as a babysitter growing up, or worked with my grandfather, gardened with my grandmother, or worked with my mother. I saw people that I’d gone to church with from all over the country and people I’d had the pleasure of working with in the past. Dayana made the trip from home with her daughter, Allie. She helped keep me in check. A couple of my dear friends from that area showed up for moral support. I had people walk up to me before and after the funeral and tell me stories of mother’s kindness. A woman from mother’s grade school was there, said that when she transferred to mom’s elementary school, kids were mean to her. She said my mother witnessed their cruelty one day and marched over to her, stuck her hand out to introduce herself and informed her that they were going to be good friends – and they were. Another said that they were cheerleaders together and mother was just such a happy person. One woman was a majorette with mom and talked about how beautiful she was- inside and out. An older African-American gentleman shook my hand and told me that he and mother met at the library and she taught him how to read when he was thirty-six years old. She told him if he let her teach him to read, that he’d be able to support his family better. He ended up going back to school and teaching adults like himself how to read in an adult education school. He traveled from Charleston to attend her funeral, and was almost 80 years old. A group of friends was there that mom had been friends with since grade school and middle school. My Godmother was there and I hadn’t seen her in years and years. Everyone had a funny story to share, or a touching narrative of mother’s kindness and influence in their lives. It was profoundly moving and a wonderful way to celebrate my beautiful mother’s life.
After the funeral, people had to get back to their busy lives. I stuck around to work at my mother’s house, spend some time with my brother, sister in law, nieces, and nephews and do my homework. I was confused and concerned that an animal that was a loving family pet in a home with children was able to do such horrific damage to a human being. I was concerned about the things people were saying online that simply were not true. I decided to try and put the puzzle together. I spoke to my brother’s neighbor about that night. They were instrumental in getting the children out of the house and to safety. I felt a need to thank them repeatedly, and they were very humble. The coroner’s office was so kind and compassionate when I went by to get my mother’s report. I found out that Sonny Cox, the coroner and a friend of our family, was with my brother when he called me. Sonny asked about my family and acknowledged the difficult time we would all have, but especially my baby brother. I’ll never forget him asking me if I was sure I wanted to see the coroner’s report. He warned me that it was really terrible.
The police department was cooperative and empathetic. A number of men met with me and talked to me about the tragic scene, and told me they didn’t think charges would be pressed against my sister in law who was the owner of the dog. However, the case wasn’t closed yet. I recall being snarky with them and my reasons were twofold: because I loved my sister in law more because of the love and respect she showed my mother (this wasn’t her fault) and because the police officer first on the scene didn’t immediately shoot the dog and go in to help my mother. The men I spoke with assured me that the officer that first arrived would have shot the dog if he’d had to, but I knew from witnesses that he waited outside the front door and my brother ran into the house first. The officer didn’t know if my mother was dead or alive (I know now that she was likely dead), but he seemed inadequately trained to respond to a dog attack call of this nature and magnitude. Let me be clear: the officer was incredible with my brother that night. I am dreadfully sorry that all the emergency responders had to witness the scene of my mother’s violent death. What terrible images to live with! Despite that, I do feel that police and other first responders need universal training in dealing with dog attacks. They need real information about bully breeds so that they understand the potential and propensity of dangerous dogs. They absolutely need to be allowed to shoot- without consequences- a dog that is being too aggressive to manage reasonably.
My niece shared that the pit bull that killed my mother had killed their Siberian Husky before this. I was taken aback by that news. My brother did tell the police the night of mother’s death about this incident, I confirmed that with the officers that were at the scene, but I didn’t know about it until she told me. My brother, Chad, was present the night of the attack and he knew about the incident. The media reported that my brother lied to the police about it. That wasn’t true at all and caused people that had known us for years to question us and be hostile. When our Uncle David made a statement to the press on our behalf, he stated the dog had not shown any previous aggression because he, like other members of the family (including me), had not heard about it. When we asked our uncle to make that statement, it was to keep the reporters from disrespecting our right to mourn, to thank all the well-wishers, and was something we were in too much shock to do ourselves at that time. This is not something the average person prepares ahead of time for. The statement was totally off the cuff. To this day, the local online news outlet, Greenwood Today, has yet to correct their story. They claimed to have a source with the police department. When I sat down with the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Department to hold them accountable for that grossly inaccurate statement to that journalist, they denied anyone from their department making a false statement to the media. They said that if someone told the press anything at the crime scene, they were not authorized to make a statement and not privy to all of the details of the night, or any details of the investigation. They confirmed that my brother did tell them the night mother died of the dog’s aggression and they had not found anything in their investigation that made my sister in law or brother look like negligent pet owners. They understood that this was a family pet, not just a “resident dog”, as is a common term for pro-bully breed organizations. They went on to say that my mother’s death was the most gruesome canine attack they had ever worked. They were incredibly compassionate.
It was hard for me to understand why the dog had been allowed to live after killing another dog, and I was very hurt and almost angry. That all changed when I started talking to my sister in law about it and researching pit bulls and the statistics of how many attack other animals and are allowed to live. My sister in law’s dogs had been raised together and played beautifully with one another and the children. I’d been an active part of their lives before moving away and knew the dogs. After the pit bull killed the husky, with heavy hearts, my brother and sister in law did what any responsible dog owner would do: they called the Humane Society of Greenwood, SC, and asked what they should do. They were told that having the pit bull spayed would help take the dog’s aggression away. To be thorough they called a local animal hospital and were told the same thing. Let me be clear: they were never told that the dog might turn on them or any human. They were never told to euthanize the dog. Not once were they told the dog was a danger to them or their children. The law doesn’t require animal shelters to tell the facts or share the statistics regarding canine related fatalities. The information available online at that time was all about how pit bulls are gentle dogs. Sources online state that if they attack another dog the pit must have been provoked or how pit bulls can easily be rehabilitated from something like this. Pit bulls were attacking pets and people all the time and going right back to their families, etc., and so forth. Heck, the Humane Society and animal shelters, as well as tons of rescue organizations across the country, adopt out dogs that have been confiscated from dog fighting! I was mortified at this.
My brother and his wife did what they were told to do by the “professionals” and had their pit bull spayed. My anger turned into disgust towards these so called “animal rights” groups, the shelters claiming to rehabilitate pit bulls, and the Humane Society. They didn’t care about human life over animals’ lives and the people in power to change things were getting filthy rich at the victim’s expense. How could people have turned this public safety issue into a politically incorrect move? Something that isn’t discussed in polite society, something that politicians everywhere are avoiding (or voting in favor of dangerous dogs thanks to campaign contributions), and something that pit bull enthusiasts excuse away is that dozens of people are dying annually because of family pit bulls just snapping. Thousands of people are being maimed, mauled, scarred for life because loving pits were “going pit” and attacking. Children, sweet, innocent babies, were being mutilated by these so-called “nanny dogs”! I remember thinking, “What in the world is wrong with these dogs and the people who excuse their violent behavior? Since when did a dog’s life become more important, more valuable, than human life?”
My nieces opened up and talked to my youngest children about that night in detail. I was overcome with emotion that my oldest niece had shown such bravery in a time of such a violent attack. She was far braver than many adults I know. The more I learned about that despicable night, the more I was in awe of this courageous young girl. Reading over the coroner’s report and police report made that feeling more profound. My sweet, beautiful, little toothpick niece was a hero! The media didn’t say anything about that, though and it went unnoticed by the rest of the world. How could our mayor or the governor not have recognized her heroism? She had become a giant in my eyes; a brave, selfless warrior, who had witnessed a most horrific blood bath. My heart ached for her.
This is the best recollection of what occurred in my brother’s home the night a loving, family pit bull pet ripped the life out of my mother:
My mother was at my brother’s house three or four days a week. She was part of their family and loved her time with her grandchildren. On the evening of January 8, 2013, she had gone over to let my brother and his wife go to a company party. My sister in law gave mom the usual spiel about schedules, etc. As they went to leave, my mom asked Heather if she wanted her to put the dog back in the bathroom. The dog had been spayed and was almost done recovering. Heather told her that she thought the dog would be fine out while they were gone. I know that suited my mother just fine, because she loved her granddogs and enjoyed time with them almost as much as time with her grandchildren and great grandchild. Mom and the kids watched my brother and his wife drive off while they walked the dog. Then, Mom took the grandkids out to eat before heading back to their house to play and have fun.
My mother was in the den with my nephew who was almost one and a half and the family dog. That is when the attack occurred. According to the medical report and pictures, my mother was acting in defense of my nephew, her grandson and got between him and the dog. My mother was mauled on the ankle, up and down her leg, repeatedly up and down her arms and hands. Her right shoulder was completely dislocated posterior. Her right ear had been partially ripped off while half of the right side of her face was mauled off. Her head received massive bites around her face, neck, and scalp. Her neck was mangled and there was a gaping wound. The cervical spinal column was fractured posteriorly, involving the C1 and C2 vertebrae and eventually her cerebral spinal cord had been severed causing death. My mother did indeed fight back, and was found with huge patches of the dog’s hair- still attached to the skin in her balled fists. There was blood everywhere. This was not an attack that immediately killed my mother. It was a sustained attack; my mother felt every moment of the dog’s ferocious assault and she knew exactly what was happening!
My mother had managed to let out a cry for help just before the pit bull ripped part of her vocal box, preventing her from yelling and warning the children. My twelve year old niece heard my mother and went to see what was going on. What my niece walked into was something no one should ever have to experience, much less a child. The family pet was in a vicious frenzy with its mouth clamped down onto my mother’s neck. The dog was throwing my mother back and forth as if ferociously shaking a toy. There were massive amounts of blood everywhere. My tiny niece didn’t hesitate and had the courage of a lion! She ran to her grandmother, braced herself against the bloody wall, and tried with all her might to pull her dog off of my mother over and over again. She was no match for the large dog as the animal continued its bloodthirsty onslaught as if it didn’t even notice the twelve year old child.
When this brilliant child realized she was no match for her dog, she lifted up her baby brother who was covered in blood on the floor next to my mother. She turned to run, and saw her nine year old sister standing frozen in shock. She grabbed her sister and ran through the dining room, scooping up my mother’s cell phone on the table and ran to their parent’s bedroom. They locked themselves in the bedroom and called my brother. My niece cried into the phone that the dog had killed Mana! She begged my brother to come home, and not to hang up the phone. My brother and sister in law were confused and terrified for my mother and their children, and disbelief was heavy. They called the police and their next door neighbor who found my nine year old niece banging on the window and crying. The neighbors told the children to run to the door. They met them at the front door of the house. My petite niece had to run for the door carrying my nephew, who was covered in mother’s blood, but was not injured. When the dog heard the children trying to escape the house, the dog ran to the door after them in determined pursuit. But, they were quick.
The police passed my brother and his wife on their way home and I thank God for that. The paramedics and police arrived just before my brother and the neighbor was begging the officer to go in and shoot the dog so they could get my mother. Within moments, my brother and his wife got to the house. My brother was the first to rush into the house, followed by his wife and first responders. He yelled and kicked the dog and it went running into the master bedroom. As he closed the door into his room to trap the dog, the paramedics rushed to my mother’s lifeless body. My sister in law was further into the house and saw my mother’s bloodied hair and I’m sure the blood all over. She told the police not to let my brother see and they struggled with him as he ran towards mother. My sister in law said that they were barely able to restrain my brother. The paramedics applied EKG patches and attempted to revive mother. I understand that it was immediately clear that they could not help her.
You cannot conceive of my baby brother’s heartbreak over my mother’s death. You can’t imagine the way people spoke of my sister in law and brother. The inaccurate media coverage was so hurtful. The comments all over the internet were spiteful and the news blaming my brother, my sister in law for the way the dog was raised was unbelievable. My brother was broken and defeated. My nieces went through a wide range of emotions. The nine year old initially denied that she saw anything, but she was unable to sleep in her own room or with the light’s out. Eventually, little bits and pieces of what she saw did emerge. My twelve year old niece didn’t feel as though she had done enough to help my mother, which broke my heart. Expressing her feelings of guilt she would share things with her mother and my children. Sometimes details were mentioned, but we never pressured her. She is a hero, the bravest young woman I have ever had the privilege to know! She saved her brother and sister’s lives, and very likely her own. I am humbled by her actions that night and devastated that the children had to witness my mother’s savage mauling and death.
My family has been in so much pain; we suffered a terrible loss. There are many ups and downs, like a nauseating emotional roller coaster. We miss my mother and I have picked up the phone to call her and talk to her about what is going on, only to remember that she is gone. The pain hits again in waves of overwhelming emotions as they roll back to the forefront of my thoughts. Acceptance is difficult as we will always miss her. I have dealt with her death as a terrible but preventable tragedy, one that could have been prevented had the “professionals” been honest with my sister in law about pit bulls. I’ve had to learn where to get reliable, factual information about pit bulls from. I’ve had to learn to look at where research originates, who pays for the research and even what political contributions are being made by those people and organizations. The pit bull business is a huge money maker and a very politically driven topic. People everywhere excuse pit bulls’ actions and blame victims, no matter what the circumstances. I can only pray that people begin to see the awful truth about these dogs, sooner than later.
Gone are the days when folks took aggressive dogs out to the woods and shot them and buried them in the family’s makeshift cemetery for beloved pets that’ve gone to Heaven. These folks would temporarily mourn their losses while licking their wounds from a bite that might take a few days to heal. Now society quarantines “potentially aggressive” dogs for ten days to watch for rabies that never appears. Animal control administers invalid temperament tests. They “rehabilitate” dogs that show “signs of aggression” and re-home them into families that are completely unsuspecting only to find out later that many times the dogs have bitten before or displayed an unstable temperament. If animal control officers dare think about euthanization after a pit bull has attacked an innocent child or someone passing by then we get the “misunderstood resident dog” a lawyer and fight for the dog’s right to live. The blame is placed on the victim and erroneous information spreads throughout social media to place blame on the victim and draw sympathy for the bully breeds. Society ignores the victim fighting for their life, struggling to readjust to life as a disabled individual, or struggling to come to terms with permanent scarring and multiple surgeries. Society ignores the fact that almost all victims did absolutely nothing to cause provocation of such a devastating canine attack. We also forget the astronomical financial impact and burden that a mauling takes on the victim and their family. So many pit bull owners lack insurance to pay for the damage done by their dogs and the victims are left with all the bills and so many times the loss of income. Sometimes the owners run off with their dogs to hide them. Often, victims are left with no choice but to get Medicaid and the tax payers are forced to carry the burden of financial responsibility for the pit bull owners. In some instances victims lose their homes, jobs, and savings trying to recover.
We know now the truth about pit bulls, that they are inherently potentially violent. They might not ever “snap” or they may show aggressive tendencies from the start. Maybe the scariest are the ones you love as part of the family, then one day “out of the blue” and with no provocation, they turn on you and their strength is unstoppable. Perhaps the most frightening ones are those you don’t know your neighbor has hidden away in a crate. Maybe the most horrifying is the one that suddenly jumps the fence and attacks completely unprovoked as folks are out for a walk, jog or bicycle ride. I pray daily for the victims who have suffered from their losses or mourn for their loved ones. I pray for peace of mind while living with my own family’s tragedy. Prayer is a way to heal and move forward.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me. – C. S. Lewis
I have come to understand that all pit bulls are dangerous because no matter how well trained, no matter them knowing their place in the pack, no matter how well socialized, no matter how familiar they are with your guests, no matter how well behaved your children have been taught to be with animals, no matter if they are a resident dog or a “family member”, no matter if they have a bone or don’t have a bone, no matter if they are abused or never abused, pit bulls are the most unpredictable dog available for domestic ownership and they are absolutely not worth the risk of owning! Owning a pit bull is like putting a kiddy pool in your front yard and filling it with one hundred grenades but only a quarter of the grenades are live. Have your friends, family, children, or anyone else who will be a part of you and your pit bull’s life pick a grenade and pull the pin. Maybe you will get lucky and the live grenade will never get pulled. Are you willing to take that chance with other people’s lives, especially your children’s lives?
“What has been hidden by snow is revealed by a thaw.” author unknown
Pit bull breeds make up approximately 6% of the dog population and are responsible for most deaths due to canine attack. Every 5.4 days, a human body part is severed and lost in a pit bull attack. Every single day, humans, both adults and children are being attacked by pit bulls. People are being killed by pit bulls at a rate that is steadily increasing. Animal shelters and rescues adopt out pit bulls every day that have attacked or killed other animals, or have attacked people. Most of the time, the aggressive history of the dog is not disclosed to the adopting family. Pit bulls attack and kill other animals daily and many more go unreported. The maulings that are reported result in minimal fines and little else, if anything, is done to protect public safety.
If my family had only had access to the real statistics of pit bull attacks we could have prevented this from happening to my mother.
If the animal shelters had been required to tell us to put the pit bull down after it killed the husky, my mother would be alive.
If the Humane Society had been required by law to tell my sister in law that she, nor her children, was guaranteed their safety, my mother would have been spared the brutality of a pit bull attack.
There is positively no guarantee that any pit bull will not flip its switch one day and do what it has been bred for: maiming and killing. Ownership of pit bulls simply is not worth the risk! I know the consequences are my reality and that of my families. Don’t let it become your reality! This never leaves you but remains as a tragic testimonial to devastation that these dogs can bring upon persons, families, neighbors and communities.
“A death from a long illness is very different from a sudden death. It gives you time to say goodbye and time to adjust to the idea that the beloved will not be with you anymore.” Meghan O’Rourke