Rescue group volunteer, son injured in dog attack

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A volunteer and her young son were hospitalized after two large-breed dogs attacked and bit them Tuesday at For the Love of Dogs’ private animal shelter, sheriff’s officials said.

Wilson County Animal Enforcement was called to the 5146 Quaker Road rescue group at 4:40 p.m. after two Rottweilers attacked the woman and child. Chief of Staff Wanda Samuel of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office said the incident occurred when the dogs approached the volunteer’s two children, who were seated at a picnic table.

“The Rottweilers went up to the children and they started to pet one of the dogs,” Samuel said. “The dog suddenly grabbed one of the children off the picnic table and took him to the ground, and the second dog started to attack the child as well.”

Samuel said the volunteer rushed to her son’s aid and was bitten when she tried to shoo the dogs.

Wilson County EMS dispatched two ambulances to the rescue group. The mother and son, who were not named in a statement from the sheriff’s office, were taken to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville for emergency care.

“The child sustained severe injuries, including several large lacerations throughout his body, and the mother sustained some injuries as well,” Samuel said.

Max and Della Fitz-Gerald, who own and operate For the Love of Dogs, said the tragic incident has rattled their close-knit team of volunteers.

“I don’t know how to put into words how sorry I am about what happened,” Della Fitz-Gerald said. “It just breaks my heart. We are going to do everything we can to help.”

Fitz-Gerald said the woman had been volunteering at For the Love of Dogs for four to five months.

“The volunteer and I had talked about letting the dogs out with the children,” she said. “The children of this volunteer are very dog-friendly and dog-savvy.”

The two Rottweilers had been sheltered at For the Love of Dogs for about a year. While the attack was unprovoked, Fitz-Gerald said many strays the group takes in have been neglected or abused. Some dogs that show no signs of aggression toward adult volunteers could have had traumatic experiences with children in the past.

For the Love of Dogs will now limit interaction between volunteers and shelter dogs in open spaces and monitor any contact between dogs and children, Fitz-Gerald said.

“I’m just going to have to be much more cautious and not as trusting,” she said. “I’m going to make every effort that this never happens again.”

Fitz-Gerald said she has spoken to the injured volunteer and said she was released from the hospital, but her son “will be in medical care for several days.”

Animal Enforcement officers are holding the two dogs involved in the attack in quarantine.

Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen said the health department ordered the quarantine to ensure the dogs are not rabid.

“The health department’s authority in this case is to address the threat of rabies to the victim,” she said. “In this case, the dogs were up to date vaccinated for rabies and therefore there should be no threat to the victim. Animal Control will quarantine the animals to make sure they show no symptoms of rabies.”

If no rabies symptoms are observed in the Rottweilers, Samuel said they would be returned to the rescue group unless it chooses to surrender them.

Fitz-Gerald said she expects the no-kill shelter will house the dogs in a controlled-entry area away from volunteers.

“We’re not planning euthanasia,” she said. “We’re planning on having a very enhanced system for them — and certainly not with visitors, known or not known.”

For the Love of Dogs is a registered nonprofit organization, and its shelter receives regular inspections through the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Animal Welfare Section. With an average population hovering around 100 dogs, the private shelter is the largest such facility in Wilson County.

Times Staff Writer Olivia Neeley contributed to this story.

cfriedman@wilsontimes.com | 265-7813