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After attack, dogs will be put down

SoVaNow.com / June 07, 2017


A hearing to determine the fate of two pit bull terriers owned by Tyler Graham and his wife Raven Duffer Graham ended Tuesday after Graham agreed to surrender the dogs to the county to be euthanized.

Mecklenburg County Dog Warden Doug Blanton had asked the court to declare the dogs were vicious after they mauled a woman who was picking up trash on the side of the road with her son for his Cub Scout project.

Michelle Thomas and her seven-year-old son were removing roadside debris in the 7000 block of Trottinridge Road around 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 when the dogs sprinted across the road and attacked the pair. Thomas said the dogs initially tried to attack her son, but she screamed to draw them away from the boy, thus allowing him to escape injury.

The attack left Thomas with broken bones in her arms and legs, severed arteries and veins in her left arm, torn muscles and ligaments and severe damage to her right arm and both hands. She said “my arms looked like chopped meat. She also suffered lacerations to her face, requiring more than 200 stitches.

The attack ended when Norman Wagstaff, who happened to be driving by, saw what was happening and drove the animals away.

Thomas said she was awake during the entire attack and did not allow herself to relax until hearing that her son was safe.

She was transported by Lifeflight helicopter to VCU-MCV Hospital in Richmond following the attack. Since then she has undergone twelve separate surgeries to repair the damage, including skin grafts, vein and nerve replacement and reconstruction to her arms.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Nash, said while the county sees approximately twenty dog bite cases each year, none have been as severe as Thomas’ case.

As part of the settlement Graham was given twelve months to reimburse the county for the cost of boarding the animals, since they were picked up by animal control officers in January. Blanton estimated that cost at $2,756.26. General District Judge Charles Warren said he would keep the case open until June 5, 2018 as leverage to ensure that Graham fulfills his obligation to repay the County.

Speaking for Graham, attorney John Light said the parties also agreed that his client and wife could visit with the dogs one last time before they were euthanized and would be allowed to bury the dogs after their death. Hearing this Thomas said her son would be glad to know that the “dogs were going to heaven.”

Also, at the request of Graham’s attorney, the judge did not order any restitution to Thomas. Instead, she will pursue an independent civil suit against the Grahams for her injuries. Under the statute the judge could have ordered Graham to pay Thomas for her out-of-pocket expenses.

Nash explained, Virginia’s vicious dog ordinance is unique in that the suit is not actually against a person — the owner of the dog — but the animal. Once Graham agreed to relinquish the dogs to the county, Nash said the Commonwealth’s “case was extinguished.” Nash added that he also had no legal ability to ask the judge to prohibit the Grahams from owning dogs in the future.

These facts were explained to Thomas, and she agreed to end the case as it relates to euthanizing the dogs.

Despite the seriousness of her injuries, Thomas has maintained her sense of humor. During one surgery, where the orthopedic surgeon attached Thomas’ left arm to her stomach to allow the arm to heal, Thomas asked if they would be able to give her a tummy tuck when they disconnected the arm.

She continues with physical therapy treatments, two to three times per week. For now she is living with her mother Sharon Joly in northern Virginia since her home is closer to where Thomas goes for her therapy.

On Tuesday, Thomas was happy to share that she’d accomplished one of her first goals — to attend her annual high school reunion in Staunton. She and her now 8-year-old son Mel went “and we had the time of our life.” She also helped cook dinner with her sister and sister-in-law on Monday night.

Her next goal is to return to her home on Trottinridge Road by the end of summer. She wants to re-enroll her son in Mecklenburg County Schools before the start of the school year this fall. “I’m determined. When I find out that I can’t do something, I become more determined.”

Thomas said she was also happy to report that her son seems to have suffered no long-term trauma from the incident. He was already uncomfortable around strange dogs and she feared that would become worse.

Recently he, along with his cousin, attended a Cub Scout event, which included a visit with a police dog. She said he was told it would be okay for him to not attend the event. He surprised her with his response saying, “I’m gonna be a police officer one day. I have to see it.”

She called him, “My brave little guy.”

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Were the owners of the dogs contacted for this news article? I think that as a reader it's important for everyone to receive the full story and input from both side


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