Missy a purebred mastiff being treated for a shotgun wound to her face is shown resting on the shoulders of Todd Jewett, one of her owners, during a fall camping trip. / Courtesy photo
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
The rescue puppy Mary Fairbanks acquired five years ago grew up to be 114 pounds of dog she describes as a “petite” mastiff.
It and its companion, a black Labrador retriever, were being taken care of by a house sitter while the Toledo resident and her fiancé were out of town, visiting a new grand-baby when they got the phone call.
Their neighbor had shot Missy the mastiff with a 12-gauge shotgun, Fairbanks said. “The whole left side of her face was blown off.”
As the phone got traded around, through several conversations including with a deputy sheriff who responded to the scene along Herifford Road and Shoreline Drive, Fairbanks learned Missy somehow got out of their fenced yard, went next door and tangled with the neighbor’s German shepherd.
Missy, after she was rushed to a veterinary hospital.
The neighbor Douglas Bramhall told the deputy they’d gotten their pet safely inside and he went outside twice, the second time carrying his gun out his back door.
She learned Bramhall said her dog lunged at him, and he fired once, then her dog ran home bleeding.
Fairbanks, who said veterinarians refer to the large breed dogs as “gentle giants” found the neighbor’s story unbelievable.
Missy is a dog who children could lay on, who greeted numerous contractors over the past couple of months at their new home without a hint of aggression, and got along with other animals, according to Fairbanks.
“We lived for two and a half years on five acres in Tenino, with no fences and no issues,” she said. “Our dogs visited our neighbor’s dogs.
“There’s just so much more to this, we just don’t understand.”
Most upsetting, was trying to figure out why the neighbor went back outside if he thought he was putting himself in harm’s way.
“He’s in his house with his door shut,” Fairbanks said. “If she’s this horrible mean dog, why’d he go back out?”
That was last Sunday morning. By Thursday, Missy had undergone surgery at a veterinary hospital in Tacoma, and had a surprisingly good prognosis.
“What saved her is she’s young, she’s healthy, and strong,” Fairbanks said.
The vet picked what Fairbanks called pellets out of her face, leaving in the ones they couldn’t get to, she said. A feeding tube is getting installed, that Missy will have for at least six weeks.
“As long as no infection sets in, she’ll make it,” she said.
Fairbanks had endless questions, such as did the Bramhall’s dog, whose customary bathroom spot is property now inhabited by strangers, antagonize Missy.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigated and a spokesperson said they didn’t expect any charges on either side.
Both parties were talking about suing each other, however.
“The law is, you have a right to protect your life and property,” Chief Deputy Stacy Brown said on Friday. “People can armchair quarterback it, but the investigation shows it was a justifiable shooting at this point.”
As for Missy’s owner, Lewis County has an ordinance that addresses “prohibited activities of animals”, such as biting or threatening others as well as “animals at large” that prohibits dogs from roaming off their own property. Civil infractions can be issued, but in this case it seemed clear it was an accident when Missy got out of her fenced yard, according to Brown.
The deputy’s report indicates the house sitter inadvertently left the gate to the backyard open while watering plants.
“I think this is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” Brown said. “The learning point is, even if you live in the country, you have to keep your dogs on your property. Because if they get out, unfortunate things can happen.”
Further, Brown said, dog owners often will say their animal never behaved badly before, but dogs act differently when they are under the control of their owner.
Fairbanks and her fiancé Todd Jewett moved to Lewis County in early April. The property was vacant before they constructed the shop building where they reside until they can get a house built.
Bramhall meanwhile, is upset too.
The 56-year-old said he knew the new neighbors had dogs and was surprised to come home late one night and learn that while he was out, his 14-year-old son had opened their front door because the mastiff and their German shepherd were fighting on his porch.
“My dog had some bite marks and came in and laid down,” he said. “My son got the door shut before the mastiff got in here.”
He thought it was odd, because the neighbor’s dogs were always penned up, he said. Jewett had cautioned him though, he said, that he needed to watch out for the big one, Missy.
Bramhall said he and his wife talked, and thought maybe the next day, he needed to talk with Jewett.
“We wake up on Sunday morning, about 8:30, and all of the sudden on the front porch, there’s a commotion again,” he said.
He said the mastiff was out there, fighting with his dog and when his wife opened the door, their dog came in and the mastiff tried to follow it.
He tried to open the door to holler at the dog and it continued trying to get inside, he said.
“I went out the back door, yelling, ‘Todd, Todd, get over here’,” he said.
The mastiff heard him and came around the house, barking and snarling, he said. He slammed the door.
Bramhall said he grabbed his mole gun for protection, and went out the back again, because he wanted to get a hold of Jewett.
“(She) makes a lunge, I pull the trigger,” he said. “I was point blank when I shot the thing.”
Bramhall said he told his wife to call the sheriff.
He still sees the glazed eyes, and the snapping jaws on a head the size of a pumpkin, he said.
“One of us was gonna wind up hurt, me or the dog,” he said.
Bramhall said the deputy came and he gave his statement.
“He calls the people, tells them the story, I’m feeling bad,” he said. “I have animals. I’m an animal person. I go out of my way for animals.”
The Bramhall’s dog, Zena, escaped with nicks on her neck and ears, and some on her leg, according to Bramhall.
It’s sad it went down the way it did, he said, but it wasn’t out of mean spiritedness or anything of the sort.
“If I was vindictive, I’d have grabbed a gun that would have killed it,” he said.
In Lewis County, when an animal kills livestock, or bites or is acting aggressive, deputies forward the case to the code enforcement department for review. Another portion of the county ordinance on animals has provisions for a civil process by which a dog can be labeled dangerous, and then various requirements will kick in, according to Bill Teitzel.
Teitzel, a supervisor at Lewis County Public Health, said he looked over the deputy’s report and concluded Missy’s actions met the definition of a potentially dangerous dog.
“It’s really a warning,” Teitzel said, noting that if something happens again, the animal is flagged.
Before the weekend began, the two couples met and came to agreement it was a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened.
“We exchanged hugs, we exchanged tears,” Fairbanks said in a phone message on Friday. “We exchanged words of what we all did wrong in the situation, and what we could have done better.”
They want to put it behind them, she said, especially in light of Bramhall receiving numerous threats since a graphic photo of the injuries appeared on a Go Fund Me page, and other social media.
“That’s not what we want,” Fairbanks said.
Bramhall echoed her sentiment.
“These people are grieving, and I feel their grief,” Bramhall said. “Nobody’s happy it happened.”
They talked about what they could have done to prevent it, he said.
“They realize they should have taken the time to introduce their pets,” Bramhall said. “I’m thinking about what I could have done different.”
While Fairbanks and Jewett spoke of how much he’ll love Missy when she comes home and they introduce the two properly, Bramhall said he’s not sure he wants to meet the dog.
“I’m just scared,” he confessed.
He said he plans to invest in an electric fence for his property.
Read the Lewis County ordinance regarding animals, here