A Holiday Story - Because Monique must kn ow
Globe and Mail Update
HAMILTON Together with his young son and his girlfriend, Mark Berka was just pulling into his driveway late Christmas afternoon when he heard the screams and cries for help.
Steps away from his Grosvenor Avenue home, in the sprawling playground of east Hamilton's Memorial elementary school, two collarless Rottweiler dogs were tugging at a small boy, while the child's terrified guardian, a young woman in her 20s, struggled to wrest him free.
"It was a tug of war," recounted Mr. Berka, who still does not know the name of the two-year-old Canadian-Chinese boy, new to the neighbourhood, whom he saved from near-certain death.
Across the street, 16-year-old Laura Miller was sitting down to Christmas dinner with her family when she, too, saw the drama unfold.
The boy "looked like he was a doll being torn apart," Ms. Miller said. "One dog had him by the hand or arm, the other had him by the leg."
And she recognized the dogs because a few days earlier they had chased the family cat onto the porch of the house and then cornered her father.
On seeing the attack on Monday, Mr. Berka, a burly 41-year-old who works for a local hydraulics company, sprinted to the schoolyard and began hitting and kicking the two Rottweilers with all his might. One of them soon abandoned its attack on the child.
But the other did not, and for at least five minutes Mr. Berka and the boy's companion were locked in combat with the dog.
"It was relentless," he said of his adversary. "At one point, the dog ripped the boy out of my arms and started shaking him."
Laura's mother, Alicia English, was watching in horror.
"That kid hit his head on the pavement so many times I couldn't count it," she said. "The dog had him in his mouth and was shaking him against the walkway, over and over, I don't know how he was still conscious."
Finally, Mr. Berka tore the child free again and hustled him into the arms of his guardian, who ran him across to Ms. English's house, where towels were brought to stanch the boy's wounds.
The child was bleeding copiously. The boy's pants had been ripped off, exposing deep bites to his legs, belly and buttocks. Part of one cheek was hanging open and an ear was partly ripped off.
"His face was kind of gaping," Ms. English said.
Yet the boy was astonishingly calm, she recalled.
"He didn't make a sound. You'd expect him to scream and cry because my God, it had to hurt, but he didn't even move, he just sat there. It had to be the shock."
Police trapped the Rottweilers in the schoolyard, where animal-control officers captured them with lasso-like nooses. The boy's mother also arrived, too hysterical to speak. Then his father appeared, accompanying his son in the ambulance that whisked them to Hamilton's McMaster Children's Hospital, where the boy will spend several days. He is expected to be badly scarred. Last night, he was listed in stable condition.
Yesterday, Mr. Berka shrugged off his act of heroism, insisting that most other people would have acted similarly. He modestly concedes that had he not plunged into battle Â emerging without a single bite Â "the police told me the little boy would have been killed."
Yet just who that little boy is remains much of a mystery. Authorities would not release the family's name, citing privacy considerations, and few residents seemed to know anything about them. Police told the English household they are thought to have moved into the neighbourhood just before Christmas.
The owners of the Rottweilers, too, remain anonymous, although they are known to local authorities because the dogs had escaped their backyard pen at least twice before, said Jim Gillis, who heads municipal law enforcement in Hamilton.
When bylaw officers contacted the owners on Boxing Day morning Â roughly 18 hours after the attack Â "they believed their dogs were still in the backyard," Mr. Gillis said.
His office has nonetheless concluded that the couple were "responsible owners," who took good care of the 16-month-old Rottweilers, a male and a female that appear to be from the same litter.
The dogs had food, water and shelter and their owners had attended obedience classes with them, Mr. Gillis said. And on learning about what happened, the "very distraught" couple immediately surrendered them to authorities.
That means after 10 days of scrutiny for rabies at the city's animal control shelter, where both were confined yesterday, the Rottweilers will be euthanized.
And there, it seems, the matter will end, to the dismay of Mr. Berka, who believes that "if you want a dog like that you should be held accountable."
But there is little scope in the Criminal Code for laying charges for a dog attack of this type, and Mr. Gillis said his office, too, is unlikely to pursue matters.
"The owners signed the dogs over right away, we've got them off the street, and they will be euthanized."
What will linger, however, at least for those involved, is the memory of a day in which joy and celebration were interrupted by a savage, bloody assault on a defenceless little boy.
"This was not a Christmas Day anyone wants to repeat," Ms. English said.