The attack came without warning. One minute, Kay Best was putting a five-year-old pit bull back into its kennel at the Kenai Animal Shelter.
The next, she was shoving her arms in front of her face as it lunged at her throat.
The attack seemed to last forever for Best. She remembers screaming for help and yelling as the dog repeatedly bit her arms and legs. Then Chief Animal Control Officer Cora Chambers found the two on the floor, kicked the dog and suddenly it was over.
“It was very surreal,” Chambers said. “He stopped and looked at me. I grabbed his harness and was able to put him right back into his kennel.”
Best didn’t see Chambers kick the dog. As soon as it stopped lunging for her, she crawled across the floor into an empty kennel and shut the gate behind her.
“The dog just sat there in the kennel, looking out,” she said.
It was March 4, just after 5 p.m. and a Kenai City Council meeting was about to begin. Best huddled inside of the kennel trying to process what had just happened — both women said there hadn’t been any indication of aggression before the dog attacked.
“I was putting the dog in the kennel and it tried to push its way out,” Best said.
“You know how dogs push. They move forward, trying to push you out of the way. It had a harness on and I pulled him back with the harness and then tried to get out of the kennel. He tried to push again and this time he got aggressive.”
Best said she didn’t realize what was happening until she felt the dog biting her leg and as she struggled to get out of the kennel, she tripped over the metal bar in the doorway. She started to cry as she talked about having to put her hand in the dogs mouth to get it off of her.
“I went down and it grabbed onto my right arm and it started to do the shake and when I saw that, I don’t know I just. I don’t know what I did, but I know I put my left hand in its mouth again and at this point I’m on the floor and I got away from him and then he went after my face and I grabbed his harness with my left hand to keep him away,” she said.
It’s the first time anyone at the shelter, or the city, can remember an attack of this magnitude happening at the shelter.
“I’m not even aware of somebody getting nipped at, but I’m sure it’s happened,” said City Manager Rick Koch. “This is a pretty dramatic one.”
Shelter staff said they had seen no indication that the dog would bite. The family who brought him up from Ninilchik in late February said he had been around babies, children and adults and had been fine, Chambers said. He didn’t have a reported history of biting and animal control staff had walked him several times while he was at the shelter. Best said she’d given him a treat the last time she volunteered at the shelter.
But when he snapped and left Best crying and bleeding on the floor, city code kicked in and he was placed in quarantine for at least ten days. He’ll be euthanized at the end of his isolation.
Meanwhile Best, who was treated at Central Peninsula Hospital, got four stiches, two in each arm, and two on her thigh. The wounds and bruises are gruesome, she said.
“They didn’t stitch them shut, they said they don’t usually stitch the entire thing up,” she said. “While they were irrigating the bites, the nurse thought this was the coolest thing ever, when they irrigated one side water would come out of the other side. (The doctor) said the dog’s teeth were either close or touching inside of my skin.”
Chambers said there have been a few incidences of dogs behaving aggressively in recent years and some “close calls” but no bites.
Those dogs had to be put down as well, she said.
“At that point, when they’re showing signs that they’re aggressive we can’t put them back in the community,” she said.
Koch said the city gave Best the contact information for its insurance company and would be paying for the damages. But in the aftermath, city staff are examining protocol.
“Our sensitivities are heightened of course. Maybe they’re looking at all the dogs a little different on a day like this, than the day before,” he said.
Currently, the city doesn’t have a clearly defined protocol for this type of incident, Koch said. Some things are well defined; if a dog bites people, it must be put down. But other things, like volunteers handling the shelter animals, are being examined.
“We don’t want to make unreasonable policies and procedures basked on a single incident. However, this one is very serious and we don’t want it to happen again,” he said.
For Best, that conversation is important and she wants to be involved.
“I signed a piece of paper at the shelter and that was it. I didn’t have any training and what kills me about this is my daughter has walked dogs there to,” she said.
“What I want to see is the training. I want to see that when there’s only one person on staff — people aren’t allowed to walk the dogs. It protects everyone involved.”
She would also like to see the city consider having staff remove and place the dogs back in their kennels.
“I was the only one in there, a volunteer putting away a pit bull,” she said. “It has got to never happen again.”
The breed is also one that fosters conversation. Shelter staff and Koch said they were aware of the reputation that pit bulls can have.
“There are pit bull lovers and pit bull haters and I don’t want to stake out positions,” he said. “It’s just a shame. It’s a shame for the animal that will have to be put down and a shame for our volunteer who went through an incident like this.”
For Best, the physical wounds are healing, but her emotional wounds are still fresh. Her voice shakes as she talks about the black dog lunging at her again and again.
“I’m not mad at the dog. The dog is an animal. It could have been any kind of animal. But it was a dog and it could have been any kind of dog, but it was a pit bull,” she said.
“I’m still upset. I’m hurt and the public needs to know exactly what happens and the public needs to be armed with the knowledge to protect themselves.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org