Breckenridge dog mauled by mastiff, put down a month later
December 2, 2016
In the early evening of Oct. 15, Jill Seal was walking her neighbor Harley Allman's dog, Dixie, while he was out of town for a family reunion. As she turned onto a Forest Service trail on Peak 7, she saw another woman approaching from the opposite direction walking a large mastiff. Seal pulled Dixie to the side of the trail to allow the mastiff, which was barking incessantly, to pass them.
After they did, the mastiff lunged back at Dixie, pulling its owner along with it and ferociously biting the smaller black and tan coonhound. The owner managed to pull the mastiff back, but it leapt onto Dixie again, pinning her to the ground and ripping at the skin on her neck and back.
When the attack was over, Dixie lay on the side of the trail, bleeding profusely with a gaping wound about 6-inches long and 10-inches wide on her neck where her flesh had been ripped away. The attack was unprovoked, but an animal control report said the mastiff had been attacked by a pit bull recently, causing it to become skittish around other dogs.
Seal rushed Dixie to Buffalo Mountain Animal Hospital, where veterinarians were able to stabilize the dog. But that night, she had to be taken to the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Denver, where she was operated on for 10 hours.
The doctors sent photos of Dixie's gruesome injuries to Allman, who said he was so traumatized he cut his trip short and returned home. A second, five-hour operation and 70 stitches later, Dixie was on the mend, and Allman says the staff at Wheat Ridge dubbed her "Miracle Dog."
But soon after returning home, the 15-year-old dog started behaving differently, turning down food and not being her energetic, friendly self that had made her the toast of the neighborhood.
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Allman then noticed her belly starting to swell, filling up with fluids. Ultimately, he had to make the decision every dog owner dreads: About a month after her brutal mauling, Allman had Dixie put down.
An autopsy revealed that she had cancer, but Allman thinks it was the trauma of the attack and subsequent surgeries that started Dixie on her rapid, downward decline.
"I don't believe it was just the cancer — she was at the vet two weeks before the attack and they said she was healthy," he said. "How can all of the sudden that get so bad? I totally think (the attack) caused it. Maybe down the road a bit the cancer would've got her, but the trauma I think was a big part of it."
Muzzled and chipped
The institutional response to dog attacks can vary widely. In this case, the mastiff's owner was fined $50, and animal control deemed the pet a hazardous animal, a designation that imposes permanent restrictions, including keeping the dog in a secure enclosure, muzzling it and posting signs warning that the dog is dangerous. They are also required to be microchipped and entered into a statewide dangerous animal database. The owners paid full restitution to Allman for Dixie's medical expenses, which he said were roughly $15,000.
"The injury inflicted on Dixie fit the definition of both bodily injury and serious bodily injury, so we designated the mastiff as dangerous," animal control director Lesley Hall said. "If the owners violate the restrictions, it's a mandatory court appearance and a mandatory minimum fine of $500."
The District Attorney's Office declined to pursue further criminal charges as it has done in some past cases. Last year, a Fort Collins man was charged with multiple felonies after his golden retriever bit a 6-year-old girl in Breckenridge. That decision hinged on the allegation that the owner knew the dog was dangerous beforehand and was thus criminally responsible. (The felony charges were ultimately dropped and the case was plea-bargained).
While dog owners can file civil suits for damages, those cases can be difficult, said Jay Swearingen, an attorney with the Animal Law Center. That's because in the eyes of the law, companion pets aren't different from any other possession.
"The problem with these cases are often — and this is a problem for owners, too — is how do you value a companion pet?" he said. "In the olden days, and we're still kind of in the olden days, if you got a dog at the shelter and paid 50 bucks, the value would be 50 bucks, even if you raised it and cared for it for 15 years and it was like family."
Allman said that losing Dixie was extremely hard for him, and that she was a friendly dog that was loved by many on Peak 7. She "knew more people than the mayor of Breckenridge," noted Allman. But he's glad that animal control placed some restrictions on the mastiff to help ensure such a gruesome tragedy doesn't happen again.
"There were a lot of neighbors that were concerned and a little living in fear that it could turn and attack them or their kids or if the dog escaped," he said. "I think there are still some questions and concerns, but I'm pretty satisfied about it."
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