In the moment of a dog bite: Why did Buddy attack, and will it cost him his life?

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In the moment of a dog bite: Why did Buddy attack, and will it cost him his life?

The only one who heard Jennifer Czapla scream as she tried to stop the blood gushing from her neck was probably the dog that gashed her.

She had been trying to get Buddy, a cream-colored husky mix, to come inside her grandmother’s Springville home when the 82-pound dog lunged at her face and throat that Saturday morning in March of 2016.  Moments later, looking in the mirror with a cloth pressed to her wound, she thought she might die.

Czapla, then 33, was lucky to survive, doctors said later.

So is Buddy. But his luck may soon run out. The Concord Town Court ordered that Buddy be put down last summer, and the dog has been living on borrowed time while his owner, Czapla’s aunt Kristine Edbauer, fights for him.

Edbauer appealed the order, and when an Erie County judge affirmed the decision on July 19, she appealed that, too. She doesn’t think her dog, a Christmas present to a son some years ago, should be euthanized. Czapla and other members of the family believe he should.

Buddy’s case is headed to the State Supreme Court Appellate Division, a process that will spare him until the judges release a decision. Behind dog bite laws, behind the fracture of a family, is the question of how Buddy became violent — and what other owners can do to prevent that in their dogs.

'A very lucky girl'

It was about 20 degrees outside when Czapla pulled into her grandmother’s driveway at about 11 a.m. March 19, 2016. She had come back from breakfast with family to grab her things from the house, where Buddy often stayed.

Inside, Czapla’s beagle mix, Pedro, was waiting to be let out. So was Buddy. She put the husky on about 15 feet of chain and, after she carried her bag to her car, she took Pedro behind the empty house for a run. After about 10 minutes, she went to let Buddy in. He protested with a growl.

“Come on, Buddy, let’s go in the house,” she called from the doorway, offering a treat.

The dog still refused.

“I was a little leery of leaving him out,” she testified in court last year. “It was a cold day, and, like I said, I didn’t know how long everyone would be gone for.”

By the patio door, she called to Buddy again, and this time he approached. But when she reached for his collar, the dog lunged past her hand. He sunk his teeth into her face and throat, carving a trench beneath her chin. She made her way to the driveway, knowing she was bleeding but not from where.

When Buddy was far enough away, she headed through the patio door and to the bathroom. She saw the 3-to-4-inch cut across her neck, the teeth marks on her face, and panicked. She called her mother, but the two didn't see each other until they were in the ER.

“She was hysterical,” said her mother, Patti Jordan.

Czapla drove to Bertrand Chaffee Hospital, where her neck was bandaged, and then she was taken to Erie County Medical Center, where she received more than three dozen stitches.

When Jordan saw her daughter, her neck in gauze, doctors were telling her she was “a very lucky girl.”

The dog was seized by an animal control officer, and Czapla filed a complaint to have him put down.

‘A perfect, playful dog’

Before the bite, some found Buddy easy to love.

“Buddy was a perfect, playful dog,” testified a friend of Edbauer’s who had once visited. “The only time I heard him bark during that three to four hours was when the boys were playing ball, and it was a playful bark, sort of like as if he was talking — ‘Hey, throw it to me.’ ”

The Edbauers adopted Buddy as a puppy from a friend in 2010. One of their sons had been begging for a dog.

“Living in an isolated area and people are often walking by or strolling by,” said Mary Ann Jordan, Edbauer’s mother, “I’ve always felt a comfort when he was there.”

The friend who had given him to the Edbauers said she had once watched him for a week without any problems. He had napped with her kids.

But others noted a growing history of aggression.

When Buddy was about 9 months old, he pinned one of Edbauer’s nieces, a 6-year-old girl, against the fridge and scratched her face in Mary Ann Jordan’s house. The child may have stepped on the sleeping dog.

Then there was the birthday party at the Edbauers, when Buddy was about a year and a half. After being hit with a bat, he scratched an 11-year-old boy’s face.

There also was the time Buddy, then 3, bit the son who had asked for him. Buddy had been eating when the teen smacked his backside. The bite left two puncture wounds on the boy’s forearm.

And when Buddy was about 4, he snapped at one of Edbauer’s adult nieces, leaving a hole in her sweatshirt, when she tried unfastening a tether. The niece’s father, who had just arrived, then hit the dog with a crutch.

‘A dangerous dog’

Concord Town Judge Timothy Frank made his first decision in early April 2016.

“I find that the dog, Buddy, was, in fact, a dangerous dog,” he said in a hearing.

A “dangerous dog,” according to the law, is one that, without justification, attacks a person or domesticated animal, or one that a reasonable person would believe might attack.

A dog is justified if it attacks someone committing a crime against its guardian or on their property; if it attacks someone who was abusing or threatening it or its pups; or if it is responding to pain or protecting itself or family.

A dangerous dog is only required to be neutered or spayed and implanted with a microchip identifier. But a judge can order its death.

The bite that tore open Czapla’s neck rated a level five on the Dunbar Scale, a six-level ranking of dog bite severity that is considered an industry standard. The next level would have killed her. The recommendation at both those stages is euthanasia.

That meant Frank had one more decision: Should Buddy be euthanized?

The dog’s development

The judge ordered a professional’s evaluation of Buddy, who was returned to the Edbauers. That duty went to Susan Sickels, a Buffalo veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior.

Sickels suggested euthanasia, a conclusion that followed a breakdown of Buddy’s life. She described how his puppyhood, and scant attempts to correct later behavior, had likely lit the dog’s fuse.

“I want you to imagine that as they’re going through these developmental periods, that they’re building what amounts to a bookcase in their brain,” she told the court, speaking about how dogs grow. “If there isn’t human contact, that bookshelf on humans does not get built. Then it becomes much more difficult down the road to try to teach a dog to properly defer to a human being.”

Buddy had come to the Edbauers from a litter whose owner died of cancer. He likely had minimal contact with people, other than for meals.

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The first four or five months of a puppy’s life are the most crucial for learning its place among people. Because Buddy had barely interacted with people before the Edbauers adopted him — at about five months — he had missed the opportunity to see that, in a human family, he is part of the pack but not its leader.

“The Edbauers’ choice to start training now is too little too late,” Sickels wrote in her report. “They have done nothing to protect Buddy from this outcome.”

She pointed to when Buddy pinned the girl.

“It is the first time we have it this dog was dead serious about being controlling over human beings,” she testified. “I think this should have been a wake-up call.”

Jeannine De Palma, a breeder and guard dog trainer, was called as a defense witness for Buddy. She saw some of the same problems.

“Most people here,” she testified, “if they raised a dog successfully, don’t understand ... not to tether dogs, not to bother them when they are sleeping, let sleeping dogs lie, not to nudge them, to get them away from areas they are not supposed to be and not let them claim a sofa, the entrance or the exit.”

Edbauer had asked De Palma to work with Buddy in April, and that began in early June. De Palma thought the attack was less about Buddy being dangerous and more about him lacking the training and environment needed to curb aggression.

When she first visited the family at Mary Ann Jordan’s house last April, Buddy seemed anxious, which she pegged to the stressed people in the small kitchen.

“This has split everybody,” De Palma said in court. “Most of the emotions came from not seeing relatives for events. Not knowing if they would ever see their relatives again.”

De Palma persuaded the family to buy Buddy a pheromone-releasing collar to ease anxiety and a more secure, harness-style leash. The dog’s food dishes and bed should be moved from the doorways he guarded, she told the Edbauers. She wanted a stringent walking routine. And she bought Buddy a crate for the Edbauers’ home and stuck it in the center of the house, where the humans ruled.

By summertime, De Palma thought they had made progress. She had begun to teach Buddy through clicker training, which uses an audible device to signal proper behavior, which can then be rewarded. Her goal was to have him pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test, which certifies gold-standard dog behavior.

“Buddy can pass the test today,” she said in court last summer. “His owner needs a couple more weeks of training.”

Edbauer testified, too. Under questioning from the judge, she blamed the attack on her niece, who had little experience with the dog and no permission to take him in or out.

Appeals continue

Judge Frank issued his decision Aug. 22, 2016.

“The question before the Court is, if all risk cannot be eliminated, who will be the next victim?” he wrote. “Will this escalating violence result in death?”

Frank wasn’t ready to wait and see if his questions had answers. He ordered euthanasia.

Edbauer’s appeal contends there isn’t enough evidence that Buddy wasn’t justified or that Czapla even suffered the injuries. Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka rejected her appeal in a July 19 decision. Edbauer appealed again.

The uncertainty over Buddy’s fate could settle before year's end. But for now, on a road tucked among trees and fields about 40 minutes from Buffalo, the dog lives another day.

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