Felipe “Toby” Mendoza was enjoying a warm day of outdoor fun with his sister and his friends on Sunday, Oct. 21, when Rocky, the neighbor’s pit bull, attacked him.
Toby shared his experience at first referring to the dog by its name, Rocky, when describing how they have played in the past, but once he began describing the events after the first bite, he referred to it as “the dog”.
Toby detailed the events from the beginning saying, “My friend got into some trouble and had to go inside the house, so I waited for him to come back out.” As he stood alone, the dog calmly walked toward him as it has done many times before, thinking the dog was playing as it stood up on its hind legs. “We were face to face,” said Toby, “the dog is as tall as I am when he stands up.” The first bite was to Toby’s right cheek moving down to his arm and when the dog pulled him to the ground is when Toby took action and bit into the dog’s neck. “I didn’t let go of my bite on him,” he said, “and the dog let go a little.” As he continued to bite the dog’s neck the dog began to drag Toby by his left arm.
Toby’s sister, Socorro Reyes, 15, witnessed the dog attack and ran down the road to get her grandfather. On the way a friend on a golf cart asked her to get in and he’d take her there. While Reyes was on her way to get help, another neighbor got his gun and told Toby to let go from biting the dog. Toby said, “By this time the dog was dragging me, and my neighbor kept telling me to let go of the dog.” That is when he heard the shots being fired and the dog finally backed off. The dog was injured and stopped biting at Toby.
Charlie Nash, an off duty Horry County Firefighter, lives down the street. He responded to the incident and attended to Toby’s wounds. Toby said, “He cut off my shirt, my red shirt, and then he cut my shorts.” Reyes said there was blood everywhere and she feared the worst for her little brother. Emergency crews arrived to help Toby and get him the best care possible. The ambulance took Toby to the Crossway Church parking lot where life-flight met them. When asked if he liked the helicopter ride, he responded, “I couldn’t see out the windows, but it is something I have always wanted to do.” He said that the medics on the flight said he will be at the hospital within five minutes.
After surgery and at the least 300 stitches, he was resting in a hospital bed at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center children’s ICU wing. His mother, Tina, never left his side; she said Toby feels safe when she is around. She stated that she didn’t cry for Toby’s sake, she did not want him to know how frightened she was. “A mom is supposed to be strong,” said Tina, “his dad was not able to control the tears when he saw Toby lying on the gurney with so many injuries.” She said she finally let the tears flow once Toby was asleep and resting well. Although the dog is still alive and quarantined, the doctors have treated each wound as though he could have rabies. Tina said there are no needles in the stomach as reported years ago when a rabid or unvaccinated dog bites, she said, “It’s a medicine that they drop into each wound to prevent rabies.”
The thought of a dog taking control of your child and there is nothing anyone can do to stop the attack is frightening. Thankfully a neighbor took swift action, but not before Toby suffered injuries to his face and arms. His left arm is bandaged covering the injuries, the bites were so deep into the layers of skin. Tina said, “It’s hard seeing my child suffer through surgery and possible skin grafts to cover the affected area, I just cannot stand to see my child suffer any further than he already has.” The decision not to have further surgeries was made and Tina feels so much better.
Toby said he was concerned about his scars, “kinda”, but he will work around them. His cheek is bruised and stitched, and that concerns him because he knows friends will ask about it when he returns to school. “I don’t want people asking me questions about what happened. I want to go back to school to be with my friends, but I want to stay home with my mama too.” Tina states that Toby feels safer when she is with him.
When Toby talks about the incident he seems to distance himself from what happened. He has no animosity toward the dog; he said it is because the dog didn’t seem to know what it was doing to him. He is proud of the fact that he bit into the dog’s neck and would not let loose until the dog completely let go of him. Had it not been for his neighbor telling him to let go, he might still be holding the biting position. He does not know why he thought to bite the dog, though he said, “It’s probably why he let go a little and wasn’t hurting me nearly as bad.”
He does not consider himself as brave. He did what he had to do to get the dog to stop attacking. His sister said she stayed with him until help arrived and was crying. She said that Toby told her, “Don’t cry.” His concern was with her feelings rather than his injuries.
It is reported that prior to the attack on Toby, the dog had approached a three-year-old and began to growl. Adults with the child blocked the dog from getting close. That is when the dog walked up the street and spied Toby. No one knows why the dog suddenly attacked. Most people believe a dog attack begins with the dog charging, snarling and growling, however, that was not the case with Toby; he had no idea the dog was prowling for a victim.
The neighbors who own the dog were investigated several weeks ago when neighbors called reporting that the dog was not on a leash or tethered. The dog roamed the neighborhood and was known as friendly and playful.
It is reported that the neighbors received citations charging them with an animal causing a public nuisance and for rabies vaccine violations. The case is still under investigation.
Toby’s experience and injuries have not given him a fear of dogs. He is anxious to have a big dog for himself one day. He said he wants to grow up to be a professional football player to play for his favorite team, The Eagles. He said, “I will take care of my mom like she has taken care of me.”
Many visitors from the school staff at Loris Elementary, his youth leader from First Baptist Church Good News Club and his family surrounded him with support and love. His sister celebrated her 15th birthday at the hospital, just one week after Toby’s ninth birthday.
His mom was tired and concerned how they will pay the medical bills that have built up. A friend created a GoFundme page at https://www.gofundme.com. They have received donations of $200 out of the $25,000 requested. There may be future surgeries to help with the scarring which is considered cosmetic, generally not covered by insurance.
Toby stayed in the ICU for a week and two days being treated for his wounds. He was excited when the doctors said he could go home on Halloween morning. That night he attended the Hallelujah Extravaganza sponsored by Capture Inc. and Loris First Baptist Church. Although he enjoyed the event, he was tired and ready to return home.
Toby will be on homebound schooling where a teacher comes to his home to help him catch up with the work he has missed. His mother stated that it might be a few months before he can return to school.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” said Toby. He wants to be the typical nine-year-old. He said he understands that his friends will be curious about his injuries; he wants them to know how to deter a dog attack, but is not sure how to express that concern to others.
Tina and Socorro stated that the incident gave them pause that there truly is a God that protected Toby from further injuries. She said, “There is a reason for the attack to happen, maybe we will learn what it is we are to do with it.”