LAKELAND — Sofia was a smart and loving 9-year-old dachshund that followed Stephanie Helman around wherever she went.
But Monday afternoon while Helman was walking Sofia in her yard, a dog described as a white-and-brown brindle PIT BULL with a red collar, ran up and attacked the dachshund.
Although neighbors rushed Sofia to a veterinarian, she had to be put down because of severe internal injuries, said Helman's husband, Charles Helman.
Now Polk County Animal Control is searching Highlands in the Woods in south Lakeland and neighboring subdivisions for the dog that killed Sofia.
"We are devastated," said Charles Helman. "There are a lot of families with small dogs and small children in this neighborhood and people are afraid to go outside."
On Friday, Helman said, two pit bulls walked across On Friday, Helman said, two pit bulls walked across his yard. While they didn't match the description of the attacker, they may have been the other two dogs that were there.
He said the dogs appeared to be well taken care of.
Carrie Horstman, a Polk County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said Animal Control is taking the matter seriously and searching for the dog, described as a roaming or stray pit bull, daily.
"If and when we do locate the dog, we will proceed with a vicious dog investigation," she said.
Charles Helman described the traumatizing event his wife endured Monday afternoon.
While she was walking Sofia, who was leashed, on the left side of their house Stephanie Helman saw a pack of three pit bulls approaching.
One ran off, another stood idly by but the white-and-brown dog beelined for Sofia, Helman said.
Immediately Stephanie Helman picked Sofia up but the dog jumped up and pulled her from Helman's arms, knocking her over.
The dog then began throwing Sofia around like a rag doll.
"It ripped at her like she was a toy or some kind of stuffed animal," Charles Helman said. Stephanie Helman struggled to free Sofia, which she did for a short time before the dog bit her hands and face.
Charles Helman said his wife was finally able to grab Sofia and run into their screened in porch area, but the pit bull continued to sit outside and wait. Eventually the dog ran off.
Two neighbors who heard Stephanie Helman's screams rushed Sofia to a veterinarian while she called Animal Control and 911.
EMS arrived at the home and treated Stephanie Helman's bite marks on her hands and face. Sofia, a dog the family had had since she was a puppy, had to be put down.
This is the second dachshund the Helman's have lost in a two-month period.
Their 13-year-old dachshund, Devon, died of old age, Charles Helman said.
"That was so devastating and for this to happen only two months later," he said. "We are just trying to get through it."
The couple is relieved, however, that their children ages 5 and 7 weren't home to witness the gruesome attack.
But they are worried for their safety with the dog still at large.
"Our family has been attacked," he said. "I just want to do what's right and step up for my family and for our neighborhood's safety."
Horstman said Animal Control is increasing patrols in the area, but said anyone who sees the dog should call Animal Control at 863-577-1762.
If they are unable to get through to Animal Control, Horstman said to call the Sheriff's Office at 863-298-6200.