Mallory Keller woke Sept. 25 at the Hilton Head home where she was staying and noticed something wasn’t right.
She had been pet sitting for her roommate’s six dogs, all of which are rescues, according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office report. Because the dogs did not always get along, they were kept in separate rooms blocked by short gates.
But one of the dogs, Bonnie Blue, a blind pit bull, was getting too close the gate, Keller said in Beaufort County Magistrate court on Wednesday as she held back tears.
Keller said she reached across the gate in order to pull Bonnie and another dog apart, when Bonnie bit her wrist. She remembers only fragments of what came next because blood loss made her lapse in and out of consciousness.
Another dog — named Harley — grabbed Keller’s leg in his teeth and tore away, Ashley Yonkoski, a witness who saw the incident unfold, said in court. Yonkoski said Bonnie bit Keller only once.
According to the Sheriff’s Office report, the dogs became “frenzied” in an attack that left Keller with “severe” lacerations to her right wrist and right calf, and other deep bite wounds on her legs and arms.
Yonkoski rushed Keller to Hilton Head Hospital where she was immediately underwent emergency surgery.
According to a GoFundMe page created to assist Keller with medical bills, she spent two weeks at the hospital before being moved to an inpatient facility that focused on her rehabilitation for two additional weeks.
“Once she rebuilds the affected muscles and tendons, she will begin the next phase to include outpatient therapy, skin grafting and closure surgeries on her open wounds,” the page said. “Mallory’s road to recovery will be about 12-18 months, however, with her resilience and determination, she will get back on her feet.”
Keller appeared in court Wednesday with a brace on her right leg and walked with crutches. She appeared as a witness for Beaufort County, which is attempting to declare Bonnie Blue a dangerous animal. Harley has already been put down by his owner, Monica Collins.
According to county code, that declaration would require Collins to securely confine Bonnie in her home or a securely enclosed and locked pen or kennel, with the exception of when Bonnie is on a leash. The pen or kennel must be clearly marked as containing a dangerous animal and have a secure top attached to the sides. While on a leash, the animal must be muzzled and the leash must be no longer than six feet.
The dog’s owner must provide Beaufort County Animal Services with proof of liability insurance or surety bond of at least $50,000 and obtain a dangerous animal registration or license from BCAS and pay a $5 registration fee.
Keller has not filed charges against Collins. Keller told a reporter Wednesday that she knows Collins has a 13-year-old son and does not want to put the financial burden of her injuries on either of them.
Collins, who was also in court with her attorney, is fighting to prevent Bonnie from being dubbed dangerous. She adopted the dog from Noah’s Arks Rescue in May 2013. Bonnie had swollen eyeballs that were removed shortly after the adoption.
Collins, who previously worked with the rescue, adopted Bonnie after she fell in love with the dog that, though blind, still managed to get around and had a sweet personality.
Collins’ concern now is walking Bonnie in public. The nearly 5-year-old dog would have to be muzzled when she is used to walking along the beach on a long leash and traveling with Collins.
“She’s happy in her house, obviously, but as far as being out, she would have to be muzzled,” Collins said.
Collins said she has already complied with the county code and has placed signs at her home warning of a dangerous dog. In court, she said that she has purchased liability insurance, has muzzles and crates Bonnie when she is gone.
When asked if she was concerned for her son’s safety or that Bonnie might bite a person again, Collins said no.
“Bonnie has pretty much imprinted on me because I am her safety,” Collins said. “She’s just like any other dog. She snuggles under the covers, she hangs out with me, she chews on bones. She doesn’t know she has a disability, and she acts just like any other dog would act. ... I love her regardless of the outcome.”
After the incident, Collins had Harley, the other dog involved in the attack, put to sleep. She described the animal as a black lab mix.
“I decided to put down Harley on my own accord,” Collins said. “I knew the damage he did wasn’t OK.”
Chief Magistrate Lawrence McElynn said he expected to come to a decision on Bonnie sometime next week.