A visit to the Belmont County Animal Shelter turned terrifying for a 6-year-old girl who suffered a serious dog bite Sunday.
"She's OK but shaken up," said her mother, Jessica Lucas of St. Clairsville.
Lucas said she had taken her son and daughter, ages 4 and 6, to the shelter that afternoon. She said they had brought dog and cat food and treats for donations. She added that her daughter was a Girl Scout and had visited the shelter on a prior occasion with her group.
"I was trying to teach them to give back and help out," Lucas said.
She added that her daughter noticed the dogs in the shelter compound and asked to see them. Lucas said the staff assured her it was safe to visit the dogs. She said she told her children to stay close to her as they handed out treats to the animals. Lucas said the children were beside her the entire time.
Lucas said there were about 30 dogs in the compound. She said the bite occurred when the children each gave a treat to what appeared to be a friendly animal and the girl tried to pet it.
"It jumped at her, knocked her down and went for her face," Lucas said. "I had to pull the dog off of my daughter."
They hurried back to the shelter to seek help.
"She was bleeding everywhere," Lucas said of the child.
She was able to calm the girl sufficiently to drive to the emergency room. Her daughter required a total of 12 sutures, including internal stitching.
"You could see her skull," Lucas said.
Lucas also contacted the sheriff's office and filed a police report.
"We don't want this to happen to anybody else," she said. "We understand that accidents happen, and we understand any animal can turn at any time. We just didn't want it to happen again."
Lucas added that the family is considering the possibility of legal action.
Verna Painter, shelter supervisor and dog warden, said she regrets the incident. Painter was not present at the shelter at the time but said the shelter is normally safe for visitors.
"It's a shame this had to happen to anybody," she said. "It's a risk you take when you're giving animals treats."
Painter said this was the third bad dog bite she has seen in 40 years of working on and off at the shelter. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools and other organizations have had trips to the shelter without incident.
"The risk of being hit by a car is higher than being bit by a dog in the dog shelter," she said, noting that 50-100 people visit the site daily.
Painter said the shelter committee is now considering a policy of not allowing children into the compound.
She noted the dog in question has been with the shelter for three months, is in good health and had never demonstrated anything but affection for people.
"We try very hard not to keep dogs that will bite," she said, adding the dog has been put in quarantine and will be humanely euthanized after 10 days.