The woman who pulled her dog away from the 5-year-old boy it was mauling is being hailed as a hero by the town's animal control officer.
David Frates, Lakeville's head animal control officer, praised Karen Bruno O'Leary, 38, for preventing the year-old American bulldog from harming the boy further.
"Once he flipped out, she held onto the collar and would not let go," said Frates on Thursday, adding Bruno O'Leary was badly bitten herself.
The child, identified by the Boston Herald as Lex Lizotte, ran at least 50 yards away and got around a 4-foot-high fence to escape the dog, named Harpo, who bit him. The late-afternoon attack occurred Wednesday inside Bruno O'Leary's 4 Helen St. home.
"He's a tough kid," Assistant Animal Control Officer Hal Marshall told the Herald. He was among a group of neighbors who found the boy, whose right cheek was severely bitten. The youngster was located on Wisteria Street, one street over from Helen Street in the Clark Shores neighborhood near Long Pond.
"He was crying but not like you would think. He was more like just whining," Marshall said. "We asked his name, how old he is. He kept saying his hand hurt."
The boy was listed in fair condition at Children's Hospital in Boston Thursday night.
While the matter is still under investigation, police say there will be no charges pressed against Bruno O'Leary.
They also said the dog was not rabid.
Police killed the dog by shooting it nine times inside Bruno O'Leary's home.
She was airlifted to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with wounds on her arm and face. Information about her condition was unavailable Thursday night at the family's request.
Frates said his office had received no prior complaints about the dog, but also mentioned that Bruno O'Leary had lived at 4 Helen St. for only "three or four months."
A neighbor identified the dog as a mixed breed, but police said Wednesday and reiterated Thursday that it was a 110-pound American bulldog.
The central question about the attack — what caused the dog to snap — still looms unanswered.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, who is the director of the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University Cummings School of Animal Medicine, said any number of behavioral triggers could explain the dog's attack.
The dog could have been exerting dominance, responding to fear, acting predatory or responding to physical pain, Dodman said.
"The bottom line is you need to know more about why it happened," he said.
Police said food might have been somehow involved in the immediate lead-up to the attack, and Dodman said a 5-year-old wandering around with food at the dog's level sounds like "a recipe for disaster."
Dodman said the American bulldog is "not a dog for the novice" owner or trainer.
He said bulldogs, like other bull breeds, can be tenacious and are "not usually super fearful" and can be aggressive if not trained correctly.
"This is a tough dog that's good in the right hands. In the wrong hands, well, that's a whole lot of dog," he said. "It's like giving a 17-year-old a Ferrari. There's nothing wrong with 17-year-olds. There's nothing wrong with Ferraris. But together it can be a very bad combination."
Asked whether it is unusual for the dog to attack a child and then its owner, Dodman said he could see a situation in which the dog whirls around in an "aroused state" and, while the owner is trying to physically restrain or reprimand the dog, "that's when you could see a double bite."
Others, such as Frates, suggest that no explanation will be established.
"Nobody will ever know what happened to him," Frates said. "It's like that rainstorm we had" that caused the recent floods. "I don't think we'll ever see anything like this again — at least I hope we don't. I have never seen a dog bite that bad. It was horrendous."
Frates did not read too much into supposed breed-specific traits.
"You see good pits; you see bad pits. You see good German shepherds; you see bad German shepherds. You see good poodles and bad poodles," he said. "This is just a freaky thing."
Elaine Beausoleil, who works at Acushnet Animal Hospital, said the American bulldogs she deals with there "are usually very laid back" and "we don't even have to think about muzzling them."
"I don't think you can really draw anything from this," she said.