Strangers’ judgment irks family of hurt tot
Scampering around the yard in her flower-print Minnie Mouse outfit and climbing from lap to lap at her great-grandmother’s home, 18-month-old Amelia Essman is scarcely aware these days of the line of tiny stitches that zig-zags across what’s left of her right index finger.
She used to be afraid of it and cry when her mom removed the bandage. And she still has her moments of tears about her “owie” — the result of a neighbor’s dog biting and ripping off part of her finger last month.
Her family, though, has been reminded constantly of the injury by stinging comments in local media outlets and on Facebook left by people who have blamed the little girl and her mother, Megan, for what happened to Amelia.
Those people, the Essmans say, simply don’t have the facts.
The accident happened the evening of May 7 while Amelia was playing in the backyard where she, her mother and her grandmother, Lisa, live in the 400 block of Carson Lake Drive in Clifton. Megan said she had told her daughter it was time to come inside. Wanting to play on the trampoline instead, Amelia ran across the yard away from her mother. With Megan in pursuit, the little girl placed her hand against the 6-foot wooden privacy fence that encircled the back yard to brace herself and turn around, according to Megan.
Then she began shrieking.
Megan figured she had gotten a splinter. She quickly saw it was much worse than that. Amelia’s finger had slipped through a slat. Two dogs — a year-old female husky mix and a 2 1/2-year-old female pit-bull mix — happened to be on the other side of the fence at that moment.
One grabbed hold of the finger and “pulled” it off — as the surgeon later described it — just above the second knuckle.
Megan said neither dog had made a sound beforehand, so she had no idea either one was there.
Authorities who responded to the incident recovered the tip of Amelia’s finger and rushed it to the hospital, but it was too damaged for the surgeon to attempt to reattach it.
News stories with initial details about the bite appeared in The Daily Sentinel and on local TV stations, triggering an array of feedback from people who hoped the dog wouldn’t be held responsible and faulting Megan for not more closely watching her child. Some said the child deserved what happened to her, according to Megan.
“A lot of the things being said, there’s no humanity in it,” Megan said. “She’s a little, tiny girl.”
The reality, Megan said, is that she was just a few feet behind her daughter when the dog bit her finger, so she had an up-close view of what happened to Amelia.
“It’s just been a nightmare, traumatic, and then to hear the comments being made, it’s just not fair,” said Megan’s grandmother, Dee.
The reality, too, is that the dog who bit Amelia and a companion dog had a history with Mesa County Animal Services.
Animal Services officers cited the owner of the dogs for having a dog at-large in May 2016 and warned her for possible aggressive behavior. They were cited again in March, this time both for being at-large and acting aggressively, Animal Services Director Doug Frye said Friday. This was the first time one or both dogs had attacked a human or another animal, however, he said.
Because nobody saw or could be sure which dog attacked Amelia, both dogs were taken into custody for a dangerous dog investigation. Before Animal Services could finish its investigation and a judge could make an official determination whether the dogs were dangerous, their owner asked that they be euthanized.
“The owners made that decision. Animal Services did not,” Frye emphasized, noting the dogs were put down on May 18.
While Amelia’s finger is healing, several unknowns linger, including the long-term impact to the growth plate or whether the finger will grow back. Whatever the outcome, Megan’s impressed by her daughter’s resilience.
And she and her family are disturbed that some people would be so vitriolic in their rush to judgment.
“Don’t judge until you get the facts,” Dee said.