Owner, 53, hospitalized after bulldog tears at his face and severs an ear
By Bob Shaw
Updated: 10/29/2009 11:32:41 PM CDT
A dog rescued by a retired police officer attacked him Sunday — inflicting hideous wounds on his face.
"The doctors and nurses have never seen anything like this," said John Wess, a friend of the victim.
Jim Stewart, 53, of Woodbury, reportedly suffered a severed ear and had the skin torn away from most of his face in the attack. He was listed Thursday evening in good condition at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
"He has not seen himself in a mirror, and we are pretty worried about that," said Wess, a retired St. Paul police officer and longtime friend. "He was Mr. Hollywood, a good-looking guy who wouldn't talk to you without looking at his reflection in a window."
The attacker was a bulldog named Igor, which Stewart had obtained from an animal rescue group in Texas.
Ironically, someone representing the Texas group inspected the place where Igor would be living — to ensure "Jim was good enough to own the dog," said Amy Klinefelter, who owns the town home she shares with Stewart.
Stewart retired from the police department in Hudson, Wis., in 1998, Wess said. After an American bulldog he had owned for eight years died in May, Stewart began looking for a replacement.
Wess said Stewart searched the Internet and found a group in Texas trying to find a home for a dog named Igor. Wess didn't know the name of the group or anything about the dog's background.
For five months, Igor lived in harmony with Stewart, Klinefelter and her dog and two cats. "There was no sign of trouble. He was a very sweet dog," Klinefelter said.
About 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Stewart was watching TV in the basement with the dog when Klinefelter heard a noise. "It was like a thumping sound, like someone hitting a ball," she said — no growling or shouting.
She went downstairs to see a nightmarish scene — the dog standing over a barely conscious Stewart. Blood was spattered about, the skin of the lower half of Stewart's face was hanging loose, and one of his ears was on the floor.
The dog made no sound and wasn't moving around. Klinefelter grabbed it.
"He was not barking," she said. "He just looked at me."
Klinefelter shoved the dog into the garage and called for help.
The 911 operator told her to put a towel on Stewart's face. "She said, 'I can't — his face is gone!' " said Wess. "(Igor) ripped one of his eyelids but not the eye, thank God."
Doctors at Regions worked on Stewart for seven hours. He has been in and out of consciousness all week.
"I asked what happened, and he said he couldn't remember," Wess said.
And is there hope for Stewart's ear? "One ear, no. The other ear is looking better," Klinefelter said.
Igor is being quarantined for another six days to make sure it doesn't have rabies, said Wess, then will be euthanized.
The attack raises questions about why dogs attack — and what types of dogs do.
Animal welfare groups have long advocated that dog lovers avoid pet shops and puppy mills and instead adopt a previously owned dog.
That is still good advice, as long as people adopt from the right places, said Laurie Brickley, spokeswoman for the Animal Humane Society, which has facilities in Golden Valley and Woodbury.
She said the society puts dogs through an extensive test to screen them for viciousness.
"They are vetted," said Brickley. "We want to place good citizens in the community."
But no one can assume that animal rescue groups — especially smaller ones — go through the same rigorous tests.
"Before you get a dog, you have to ask: What evaluations are they doing? Are they doing due diligence?" said Brickley. "I can say at the AHS, we are."
But Mike Fry, director of the Animal Ark No-Kill Shelter in Hastings, said such tests are unreliable.
"It's a very complex topic," Fry said.
He said there is no reason to think that an adopted dog is any more attack-prone than a dog purchased as a puppy, because so many puppies are mistreated in so-called "puppy mills."
"The notion that you can test any dog — or even a person — and get an accurate picture of them at any moment in time is false," said Fry. "You can't take a prefect snapshot and predict behavior in unpredictable situations."
Usually, he said, the factors in dog attacks include the past treatment of the animal and the behavior of the victim.
He said any dog can attack people. That is true whether a dog is adopted as an adult or purchased as a puppy, or whether a dog is one of the so-called "bully breeds." The American bulldog is not known to be among the bully breeds.
"Dogs are predators, and we have a responsibility about how we interact with them," said Fry. "Too often we take a simplistic view that it is all the dog's fault."
Klinefelter was asked if it were possible that Stewart did something to trigger the attack.
"Absolutely not. He loved that dog," she said.
What's ahead for Stewart? Several weeks in the hospital, then months or years of cosmetic surgeries.
"It will be years of ...," Klinefelter said, her voice trailing off. "Well, we just don't know."
Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433.
HOW TO HELP
A fund for dog-bite victim Jim Stewart has been established. Contributions can be mailed to: "Jim's Gift of Hope" at Platinum Bank, 7667 10th St. N. Oakdale, MN 55128.
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