Shown in this family photo, 6-year-old Nebraska is recovering after being attacked by a dog in her yard on Sunday. Contributed photo.
KINGSPORT — Sunday marked the first evening of daylight-saving time, and Mark Nuckels was playing with Nebraska, his 6-year-old daughter, on their freshly cut Kingsport lawn.
Bath time was drawing near, but they were stretching out the beautiful day as long as possible, relishing the weekend’s final respite.
“The next thing I heard was growling,” Nuckels recalled. “I turned around, and (the dog) had her pinned on the ground, by the face, shaking her head.”
Nuckels sprinted toward the horrific scene, tripping in his panic and falling to his knees. His wife, who had been standing beneath their carport, ran past and chased away the attacker, a 2-year-old Lab mix. Nuckels then crawled, stumbled and tripped his way to his daughter’s body.
“When I scooped her up, the horror I saw was unimaginable,” Nuckels said. “Her face was covered in her blood, her eye was tore up so bad. All the way down the line of her cheekbone was gashed open — all I could see was meat hanging off her face, dangling.”
Nuckels admits panic ensued. He and his wife — seven months pregnant with their second child — scrambled to find keys to a vehicle. Ten to 12 neighbors converged on the Nuckels residence, urging them to calm down; an ambulance was on the way.
“I looked down at her and I said, ‘Daddy’s so sorry.’ My little girl looked at me and said, ‘It’s OK, Daddy.’ And that just killed me.”
Four days, more than 100 stitches and a plastic surgery later, Nebraska is continuing to recover at her grandparents’ home. Her left eye is intact and appears to have no permanent damage, despite losing a small portion of the eyelid.
The family has yet to permanently return to their residence on Adrian Drive, just off Cooks Valley Road. Nuckels said his wife believes Sunday’s attack is still too fresh in everyone’s memory. He doesn’t want to chance an encounter with the dog’s owner, a neighbor — then be left to regret his reaction. A Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office report on the incident identifies the man as 19 years old.
Richard Crino, director of the Sullivan County/Bluff City/ Kingsport Animal Control Center, reports an investigation into the incident is ongoing, with charges pending. As of Wednesday morning, the dog remained quarantined at the shelter and had exhibited no signs of rabies. Crino said it would remain there “for some time” as animal control officers continue their probe into the incident.
Nuckels reports he has learned the dog previously bit another area resident, requiring a trip to the emergency room and stitches. That victim, a male teenager, has reportedly agreed to speak with any officials Nuckels would like and expressed a willingness to help in any civil court proceedings against the owner.
“We might not be getting anything out of it,” said Nebraska’s grandfather, Ken Potts, in reference to a civil suit. “But the boy’s going to know he’s responsible for the dog.”
Nuckels reports his daughter has been withdrawn since her release from the hospital Monday night. He said when she’s not sleeping, “she just stares straight ahead.”
And on Wednesday morning, he overheard Nebraska’s conversation with an imaginary companion, in which she softly muttered, “Her face was bit by a dog.”
A pediatrician has told the couple not to panic over their daughter’s current mental state, but to give her a couple weeks before considering psychiatric assistance.
The plastic surgeon told them scarring should be minimal, with additional procedures available for any cosmetic issues that later arise.
If cleared through doctors at her scheduled Monday appointments, Nebraska could return next week to her kindergarten class at Weber City Elementary.
While Nebraska’s family is chiefly concerned with getting her healthy, they also want the dog destroyed — and the owner held responsible in some way, shape or form. Nuckels said he planned to personally contact both animal control and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.