Chris Luhrs, a 40-year-old Disney World mechanic who keeps the popular Jungle Cruise ride running, was standing in a tiny room at the Lake County Animal Shelter stroking a potential new family member named “Big Man.”
Suddenly, Luhrs’ pregnant partner, Julie Grant, noticed the pit-bull mix — you knew this story would be about a pit bull, didn’t you? — pull his lips back over his teeth in what very clearly was not a friendly smile.
“Julie locked eyes with me, and he leaped,” said Luhrs, an Army veteran who lives with Grant on 27 acres south of Groveland. “He was getting petted one second and the next, it was a full-on attack — barking and biting. He bit my nose, and at the same time knocked out my front tooth … He lunged for her [Grant], and I intervened.”
That act of bravery Feb. 2 is costing him.
The animal kept biting while Luhrs bellowed at Grant, who was pinned in a corner, to get out of the room. Blood sprayed all over, and Grant — a pit-bull lover — started beating on the glass walls to get help. A worker came running with a mop and used it to beat the dog off Luhrs.
The director of Lake EMS, which carted Luhrs to South Lake Hospital in Clermont, described the incident as “very minor” — a few puncture wounds and a few scratches.
Luhrs’ point of view is different.
He spent three days in the veterans hospital in Lake Nona after the wound got infected. Now he has little range of motion in his dominant right hand, no feeling in his fingertips or upper palm, can’t make his hand grasp a tool, needs plastic surgery on his nose and will have to pay out of pocket for a dental implant or bridgework so he doesn’t look like something out of “The Beverly Hillbillies” for the rest of his life.
This big man screamed as doctors probed the bites with needles, twisting and turning them deep into the puncture wounds to inject anti-rabies medicine where it had to be delivered because the dog had gotten a rabies vaccine only the day before — not enough time to take effect.
On Wednesday, doctors ordered a month of physical therapy for “crushed” nerves in his forearm — he is still out of work with no guarantee the nerves will spring back. Grant bursts into uncontrollable tears when a dog barks.
Welcome, dear reader, to Central Florida, land of unwanted pit bulls. Shelters are filled with them. And it’s become politically incorrect to suggest that these marvelous puppies might rip your face off. Too bad: they can and sometimes do.
Nobody keeps very reliable dog-bite statistics, but using newspaper accounts of death by dog, DogsBite.org calculated that 232 people were killed by pit bulls or their mixes between 2005 and 2015, accounting for 64 percent of all deaths though they make up only 6.6 percent of all dogs in the U.S.
In Lake County, animal-rights folks are pressuring the shelter to go “no-kill,” which means that 90 percent of the animals leave alive. In January, the shelter hit 86 percent.
Big Man, however, left dead, and he should have departed to doggie heaven long before he got his teeth into Luhrs.
Grant said a worker told the couple Big Man was “the shelter favorite” because of his calm demeanor, and she mentioned no problems. Um, no. Just no. County records show four documented aggressive incidents of threatening shelter workers, including one in which he threw himself at a chain-link fence and gnawed it to get to the person on the other side.
He’d been marked for euthanasia and yet, there he was — loose in a room without an effective rabies shot with a pregnant woman. How did that even happen?
County officials refuse to explain because the couple plans to sue.
Since the county took over animal control last month from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, dogs are evaluated “on a more holistic assessment,” said Brian Sheahan, director of the county’s Community Safety & Compliance Department.
“There is no switch,” that sends an intermittently-aggressive dog such as Big Man to its death, he said.
There needs to be. This is a foolhardy gamble to save a dog at the expense of a human being and to jack up the “leave live” numbers. Safety of the public must come first.
The man and his wife were testing their compatibility with the pit bull, Pluto, when it bit the man’s face, hand and forearm, The Sentinel reported. The man was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries.
Pluto was described as having “anti-social behavior and marked for euthanasia,” after several employees noted the dog’s aggressiveness. However the canine wasn’t euthanized until after Thursday’s attack, the Sentinel reported.
Over the last couple of months, there have been attacks by pit bulls in Tampa and Atlanta that have given the dogs a bad reputation among some people.