EASING THE PAIN
Richard, John, Maegan, Shelby,
and Catherine (from left) in a
more relaxed moment.
edge of the light pooling from the house.
“Help!” he cries again. “Please help us!”
The back door opens and a woman appears. If she goes back inside, Richard
thinks, he and John might not make it.
Samantha Brown scans the darkness
but can’t see anything. She calls, “Is anybody out there?” Both Richard and John
start shouting back to her at once. She
tells them to talk one at a time because
she can’t understand. “We were attacked
by pit bulls!” Richard calls out.
Brown asks where the dogs are; they
say they don’t know. She shouts to her
mother, who is in the house, to call 911,
and tells the boys to keep yelling so she
can find them. She rushes into the dark-
ness and first comes upon Richard, a
bloody, staggering, near-naked catastro-
phe. “My brother is over there, in the road
in the ditch,” Richard tells her. “He is hurt
worse than I am. His name is John.”
Brown walks Richard up to a fence and
then runs down the road in the dark, call-
ing John’s name, grasping her cell phone
as she searches. She finds John sitting on
the road. There is blood everywhere.
“I’m cold,” John says as she lays her
jacket over him. “Did the girls make it
out?” he asks her. “Are my sisters okay?”
“What girls?” Brown says. “You mean
your sisters are out here, too?”
Then she gives John her cell phone so
he can try and call his dad. “I’m going to
run back and check on your brother,” she
Brown, 44, who lives in Houston, is
visiting her mother in Valley Center.
Coincidentally, it was Brown who, on a
visit last spring, had been attacked by a
pit bull and German shepherd while riding her horse on this same trail, an attack
that resulted in a $900 bill from the veterinarian for treating the horse. Brown
has recently completed a search-and-rescue course, and days earlier had canceled a return flight to Houston so she
could spend the holiday weekend with
her mother. She had just put up the
Christmas lights that afternoon. Brown
and her mother were sitting down to a
catfish supper when they heard the
voices outside, crying for help.
Now, Brown runs back to attend to
Richard and finds her mom with him.
Deciding not to wait for the ambulance,
she helps Richard into the front seat of
her mother’s Honda Civic.
“But I’m going to get your seat all
bloody,” Richard says.
“It’s all right,” she tells him. “Don’t
worry about the car. You’re hurt pretty
bad. Get in and we’ll go get your brother.”
As she starts the car, Richard says,
“They wouldn’t stop coming.” Brown
senses the young man is disoriented and
falling into shock; she quickly covers him
with large towels from her mother’s car.
She is driving back toward John on the
dirt path when the first police car arrives
behind her. She notices John walking toward the bright headlights. Brown jumps
out and runs down the path to help him
into the police car. She gets back in the
Honda and sits with Richard until paramedics arrive. She hears him say one
more time, “They wouldn’t stop coming.
The dogs wouldn’t stop coming.”
IF ALL RUNNERS SHARE a basic, primal
fear of being attacked by a dog while out
on one of their routine runs, they deal
with that threat—or avoid dealing with
it—in their own way. Avoidance is by far
the most popular tactic, either physical
avoidance—altering a route to bypass the
territory of a threatening dog—or psychological avoidance: affecting a cone of
invincibility; ignoring any danger; making no plan; assuming, in the manner of
Richard Garritson before his attack, that
disaster always strikes the other runner.
This approach may not be virtuous, but
it can be effective.
“A dog’s instinct is to pursue prey,
which is why a passing runner seems so
inviting,” Dr. Hofler explains. “But at the
same time, dogs have been bred to be at-
tuned to humans. They’re sensitive to
emotions, and primed to attack when
they sense fear or weakness and back off
when they sense confidence or resis-
tance. So projecting confidence, whether
it’s warranted or unwarranted, can some-
times keep a runner out of trouble.”
Whatever the tactic—careful prepara-
tion or hopeful denial—the fallout from
a serious confrontation with a canine
tends to be the same: an irreparable fis-
sure in the cone of invincibility, and a
permanent loss of innocence.
IT’S A COOL, SUNNY MORNING in late
January, eight weeks after the attack.
Richard and John sit at a café in Escondido, taking a break from their classes.
The 40-plus jagged, canine-tooth-shaped
divots pocking the young men’s arms,
legs, and torsos have healed into purple,
relatively unobtrusive welts. Rather
miraculously, neither man incurred a
significant facial wound during the attack. However, the brothers still suffer
from deeper, less visible scars.
“I jump now every time I see a dog,”
Richard says. “I don’t think that feeling is
ever going to go away.”
“I keep having this recurring night-
mare,” says John. “The dogs are attacking,
just like it happened, except now they’re
tearing into my sisters instead of Richard
Overall, though, instead of questioning
the fate that delivered the calamity, they
count their blessings for surviving it.
“First, we’re lucky to be alive,” Richard
points out. “It’s a miracle, given how long
those dogs were tearing at us, that they
didn’t hit a major artery and that we
didn’t bleed to death. It’s another miracle
that we can still walk, and that our faces
weren’t ripped up. Or think about the
odds against Samantha coming out of
that house to save us. She wasn’t even
supposed to be there that night. At the
last minute she canceled her flight back
to Texas to stay with her mom. What if
she hadn’t put up the Christmas lights
earlier that day? Maybe I never would’ve
seen that house.”
Indeed, if black magic conjured the
macabre episode, a more benevolent
force seemed to kick in immediately af-
terward. Maegan, Shelby, and Catherine
safely ran to meet Mike Garritson, who
called Jarrod, Catherine’s dad, to go
search for his brothers. Then, according
to Richard, Mike drove to the nearby
town of Poway where he had to report
for his nursing duties at the home of an
elderly patient who couldn’t be left unat-
tended. (Linda, the Garritsons’ mother,
was out of town visiting Carrie and her
family in Orange County.) Following his
wounded brothers’ trail, Jarrod arrived at
the house of Betty Brown-Manning, Sa-
mantha’s mother, while she and the po-
lice were waiting with Richard and John
for paramedics to arrive. Soon the
brothers were in (continued on page108)