THALIA Standley didn’t see the dog before it attacked.
She didn’t see the gap in the fence, and she didn’t hear the dog growl.
There was just a feeling of being wrenched.
The dog, one of three Alaskan Malamutes in a Valentine backyard, stuck its head through a gap no bigger than 20 centimetres, grabbed the eight-year-old by the finger, and pulled her hand and arm under the fence.
The force was such that her finger tore off. Her body was pinned against the fence. She still couldn’t see the dog.
She laid there helpless while her best friend, Layne Kidd, 7, ran for help.
‘‘She sat there for two or three minutes by herself, pinned against the fence, while the dog ate her arm,’’ Randall Standley said.
Mr Standley and his wife Sally, Thalia’s parents, have only recently asked their daughter to tell them in detail what happened on the Saturday afternoon in August that changed all of their lives.
Thalia, her sister Jessica, 13, and brother Nathan, 11, had gone to visit a family friend around the corner from their Valentine home.
‘‘If that fence wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here,’’Thalia Standley, eight-year-old dog attack survivor.
Darren and Kathie Kidd have children the same age as the Standley family and they play together in the cul-de-sac where they live, or swim in their backyard pool.
It was the middle of the afternoon. Thalia sat on a retaining wall, her back to a neighbouring fence, hands resting behind her, waiting for her two young friends and Jessica to catch up to her.
She didn’t know there were dogs in the backyard, and, despite media reports at the time suggesting otherwise, did not stick her hand through the gap.
Then the attack began.
‘‘She said that she had to keep quiet and still, because then the dog would sit on her arm and be calm,’’ Mr Standley said.
‘‘It just sat there and chewed.
‘‘If she moved her arm it grabbed it and ripped and tore and pulled.
‘‘At first she screamed, but she said she had to stop because that was so much worse than when it went back to eating her hand.’’
Thalia’s assessment of the attack is just as chilling: ‘‘If that fence wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here,’’ she said.
Layne found her father first, telling Darren that Thalia had caught her hand on something.
‘‘I expected to see her hand caught in the car door,’’ Mr Kidd said.
When he eventually saw Thalia laying prone against the fence and the retaining wall, he thought she’d fallen, perhaps breaking her wrist, and couldn’t get up.
‘‘She was sobbing, and I went to pick her up and something sort of pulled her back,’’ he said.
‘‘I thought, ‘what the bloody hell is that’, I couldn’t hear growling or anything.’’
He looked under the fence and saw that the dog had her hand in its mouth. He began reaching under, trying to force it to release her.
‘‘I’m punching it in its mouth, just trying to make it let go, but it wasn’t,’’ he said. ‘‘I had my arm around her as I’m doing it, and I felt her sort of come back toward me.
“I thought ‘you beauty it’s let go’, I picked her up, and realised it hadn’t let go.’’
The dog had torn Thalia’s arm off.
Three months and nine surgeries later, the Standley family are still coming to terms with what happened to their youngest daughter and sister.
‘‘At the beginning you wake up and you hope everyday, you know, that it will get better, it will get back to what it was,’’ Mr Standley said.
‘‘But it doesn’t. There is no back to what it was ... this is now our baseline, and this is what we work from.’’
All three of the Standley’s other children, including Jacob, 16, have been impacted emotionally.
‘‘I’ve told them, to be angry, to be sad, to be confused, it’s all normal,’’ Ms Standley said.
‘‘You won’t find another person who lives in suburbia where they’ve had their sister’s arm chewed off by a dog.’’
Remarkably, it is Thalia’s positive attitude that is helping the family through their grief.
‘‘She’s guiding us,’’ Ms Standley said.
‘‘You let her guide you, you don’t try and wrap her up in cotton wool because she was a really independent, determined little girl anyway [but] she’s become even more independent as far as ‘don’t tell me I can’t do something’.’’
“She’s a very special girl, with a lot of pride, and a great sense of humour.”
While the Standley’s say they are thankful for the enormous support that they have received from the Valentine community, the full financial impact of the attack is only now beginning to hit home.
Thalia will require a new prosthesis every year until she stops growing.
The costs are enormous and unpredictable. A basic prosthesis costs about $15,000, and the price continues to climb as the design becomes more advanced.
‘‘We can’t predict the cost yet,’’ Ms Standley said.
With the help of friends, they’ve organised a fundraising gala for Thalia in February.
Tickets go on sale on December 1, and include individual and group corporate packages.
For more information on attending, or to donate to the family, go to reachingthalia.com.au.
None of the three dogs that were in the yard when Thalia was attacked have been euthanised, and the Standley’s have tried not to focus on retribution.
But they do hope that dog owners take their daughter’s story as encouragement to make sure their yards are secure.
‘‘If you’re a dog owner, for god’s sake, check your fences, because it doesn’t take much of a gap,’’ he said.