For the Wallers, replaying the memory reel of a recent spring Saturday should bring smiles: Caroline, 7, sets up her first lemonade stand, built with her daddy from a kit. Neighbors stop by to sip and chat. The family dog lazes in the morning sun while Chloe, 16, holds the leash.
Horror, however, is what David Waller relives in his sweat-soaked dreams: A female pit bull from three doors down charges up the sidewalk and turns toward his daughters. It fiercely attacks their dog, Emerson, as the leash traps Chloe in the fracas. It bites his wife, Julie, who is trying desperately to drag Emerson by the collar to safety.
We couldnt budge her, Waller says, describing how he repeatedly punched the pit bull that invaded his North Raleigh yard. I was putting everything I had on that dogs head, but I was wasting my time.
Only the whistle of the owners son finally persuaded the dog to release its clamp around Emersons neck.
All I could think about was it brushing past Caroline, Waller says. What if it had turned on her? There was nothing I could have done. Nothing.
Countless stitches, two drainage tubes and $500 later, Emerson a copper-colored all-American, as the Wallers call their sad-eyed mutt is on his way to recovery. The Wallers psyches? Not so much.
Ive never been scared more than a few times in my life, says Waller, a self-described flag-waving, law-abiding country boy raised on a farm outside Kinston. But truly to the marrow of my bones, I was terrified.
I dont like to feel like that, especially on this piece of property, our sanctuary, what weve earned, where we should feel safe.
A Raleigh Animal Control officer cited the pit bull owner for a leash violation and quarantined the dog for 10 days, only because it bit Julie. The owner, who wasnt home when his children let the dog get away, paid his fine and retrieved the dog. He also apologized and paid Emersons vet bills.
A dogs mulligan
But on the day the Wallers took Emerson to get his stitches out, they saw the pit bull owner walking his dog through their neighborhood, a busy street off Six Forks Road with a walking trail and a playground.
That dog was just prancing, and it stuck in my eye like a hot poker, Waller says. The law says, This is your mulligan. Next time it happens, well do something about it. Next time it could be a child.
A man who left his three children home alone with a pit bull gets his dog back like nothing ever happened. The Wallers get to live with fear in their home of 17 years.
Ive known that fear, that sense of rage over a neighbor having no consideration for others. When my children were small, they couldnt play on their swing set because my backyard neighbor kept first his Rottweiler then his pit bull behind an invisible fence. He repeatedly let the batteries on the electrified dog collars die.
Now Chloe cant take Emerson for a walk on the trail. Caroline cant go to the playground.
If we want to have another lemonade stand, do we have to watch our backs? Julie asks. Can we walk our dog in our own neighborhood? We dont feel safe anymore.
I felt really, really, really scared, Caroline says.
She asked the next day, Is the dog going to come back? Can she knock the door down and come in our house? Julie says.
A one-strike finality
Waller, who says he gets emotional about animals, is deeply conflicted. He doesnt hate pit bulls and doesnt necessarily believe the dog should be put down. Make irresponsible owners take classes or put the dogs on farms or with rescue organizations, he says.
The one thing hes clear on is that the citys animal control ordinance isnt strict enough. Life isnt a baseball game where dangerous animals get three strikes, he says. When an unprovoked dog attacks another animal or person, it should be one and done.
Were always sitting back when terrible things happen saying, Maybe we shoulda done this or Maybe we shoulda done that, Waller says. Well, maybe we shouldnt give them a second chance. In an ambush, there should be some finality to it.
If Emerson had been the attacker, the Wallers wouldnt want to worry about the next time and they wouldnt want their neighbors to worry, either.
I can honestly tell you, I wouldnt want him, Waller says. I wouldnt have him.
Tweaking laws would be unnecessary if more folks had that level of concern for others.
bwheeler@newsobserver or 919-829-4825