This story was originally published in 2014.
The day Ischke Barnard’s three-year-old son Connor was nearly killed by a dog, she never thought him in any danger.
They were at a friend’s house and while Barnard was feeding Blaine, her then six-week-old baby, in the living room her friend took Connor to look at the backyard.
They weren’t gone long before Ischke (28) heard Connor’s horrific screams. She left her baby in the living room and ran outside, where she saw her friend’s four-year-old male boerboel mauling her son.
“I hit and kicked the dog and tried to get him off Connor,” Ischke recalls the harrowing attack. She also used her hands to try and pry the dog’s jaws open.
“I would rather it bite my hand than hurt Connor any more. It took about three minutes to get the dog off him. There was so much blood. I wasn’t thinking straight and I ran with him to the bathroom. But I remembered my baby was still in the house and ran to get him.”
With Connor still in her arms, she ran towards the living room. She saw the boerboel had come inside the house. Fearing it would attack Blaine, or go for Connor again, she kicked the dog. It ran outside.
Neighbours, who were alerted by the screams, came to Ischke’s aid and took her and her children to the hospital. Connor’s injuries were extensive: his right ear was torn almost clean off and a chunk was missing from his left. His left cheek, the skin around his eyes and his one temple was torn open.
The bridge of his nose had collapsed, his finger was broken in two places and his private area bruised. He was in the operating room for five hours and has undergone a number of reconstructive surgeries since. While Connor is recovering from his physical wounds after the attack, which happened in December 2013, Ischke says the psychological damage still haunts the young boy.
“He was completely potty trained, but now he wets the bed. He has separation issues and doesn’t want to go anywhere alone. He won’t go to a house where there is a dog. He’s also scared of people as he believes he can’t trust anyone.” Connor is currently undergoing play therapy to help him deal with the trauma.
“We raised him as a Christian, but one day he asked me why Jesus didn’t help him when he was being attacked,” Ischke says. “It’s a big shock for a parent to hear their young child say something like that.”
Children are at a greater risk of dog attacks than any other age group and just because a child knows a dog, it doesn’t mean they’re safe. A 2007 study reviewed data from the paediatric ward of the Red Cross Children’s’ Hospital and found the “peak incidence of dog bites was at age four to seven”.
It also found dog attacks often happened at home or at the homes of friends and relatives. “Our results also support previous findings that dog bites more often occur at the family home or at the homes of friends or relatives, therefore involving the family pet or one familiar to the child,” the report says.
Teach your kids these safety measures around dogs
- Children should be taught from an early age to leave dogs alone. “I only allow children to touch a dog or pat it gently, and only under adult supervision,” Kathy Clayton from KC Dog School in Johannesburg says. “Children need to learn not to hit or pull any part of a dog, and especially not to go to the face area. They must never grab a dog by the face, pull ears or try to kiss a dog. So many dogs hate this. They don’t like their personal space invaded."
- If a child meets a dog that’s not their own, they must always ask permission from the owner to pat the dog. “Children need to be taught not to run up to a dog and hug it. This is so dangerous,” says Clayton.
If you own a dog:
- Take them to puppy socialisation classes, as well as further formal training. “Too many people believe that just going to a socialisation class is all a puppy needs; this is not true as a dog needs to continue with further training. It is like sending a child to kindergarten and not to big school,” Clayton explains.
- Never leave a child alone with your dog. “Things happen so quickly – the child might pull the dog’s hair or tail or another body part. Children can also fall onto the dog and give it a fright, especially if it is sleeping,” Clayton says.
- Teach your dog from a young age to be around children. Reward your dog if it remains calm when a child is around, she adds.
What to do when a dog bites your child
- Dog bites can become infectious, transmit tetanus or in rare cases rabies. If the skin has been pierced, immediately go to your doctor to have the wound cleaned. The doctor should make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot and might prescribe antibiotics.
- If attacked by a stray or sick dog, or one that’s behaving strangely or attacking unprovoked, there could be a rabies risk, says the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). Your doctor should assess your risk and if necessary give you a course of rabies vaccinations and in some cases rabies immunoglobulin.
Which dogs are safest for the family?
YOU Magazine has compiled a list of advice to help you choose the best dog for your family.
This story was originally published in 2014
Sources: nicd.ac.za, webmd.com, www.sabinet.co.za