Dog attack victim, 91, describes bloody fight for life with 80-pound pit-bull cross

Auburn Police impound three other dogs from neighbor, investigate possible charges
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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His hand thickly bandaged, 91-year-old Ken Heffren described Tuesday how he fought off a vicious dog attack in his backyard. Heffren, a feisty World War II veteran and retired telephone company employee, said he was fighting for his life as he tried to fend off the 80-pound pitbull-Rottweiler cross on Sunday afternoon with a hammer and a gardening trowel. With no-one home, Heffren said his calls for help from neighbors went unanswered for several minutes as the dog came at him. The pitbull cross dug below the fence between Heffren and his neighbor to enter his yard, Auburn Police reported. Heffren said he had gone into the backyard of his Dairy Road property to bury a piece of concrete to mark a water line. He’d walked toward the back of his one-acre lot with a ballpeen hammer, the trowel and a piece of concrete. A neighbor at home on the other side of his property had been napping but eventually woke up, heard the commotion and, once he knew what was happening, immediately called the Auburn Police, Heffren said. Heffren said the pitbull cross had been barking and fighting the wire fence between the two neighbors for the past 1½ weeks and five days earlier, his wife had decided against going into the backyard. “She warned me,” Heffren said. “She said the dog was crazy.” Heffren said the dog emerged from the underbrush in his yard and attacked him, grabbing the handle of the hammer he was holding in the same hand as the trowel and ripping it away. Heffren said he held the trowel against his palm to prevent the dog from using its lower jaw to bite upward and clamp down as the upper jaw ripped into his veins and stripped away the skin. “It saved my life,” Heffren said Tuesday, as he examined the trowel. His pants soaked with blood and his hand bleeding profusely, Heffren hung onto a bush with the other hand. He ended up with more than 30 stitches after Auburn Police were summoned by a neighbor and drew enough attention away from him to allow his escape. “The dog came at the police too,” Heffren said. "Every time the policeman came forward, it would go at him.” Police used a stun gun to control the dog but it escaped down Dairy Road to Luther Road, where it made its way to the Woodside Village Mobile Home Park, near Highway 49. A second attempt at stunning the dog into submission was unsuccessful. “Due to the aggressive tendencies of the dog and the danger to residents walking in the area, the dog was shot on scene and subsequently died from the gunshot wound,” Sgt. Dave Lawicka said in a Monday news release. Lawicka said Tuesday that Auburn Police are continuing to investigate the incident as one of a vicious dog at large, which is an offense under the municipal code – not a criminal offense. Two neighbors, who declined to give their names, expressed concern about Heffren’s injuries but said that they needed to talk to a lawyer before deciding whether to tell their side of the story. Three other dogs were taken from the neighbors’ residence and impounded – including a 2-month-old pitbull cross puppy now with the Animal Medical Center. Also in police custody and housed at the Placer County Animal Shelter were a Shetland sheepdog mix and a female pitbull mix. Mike Winters, Placer County Animal Services manager, said the dead pitbull mix was tested and came up negative for rabies. The other three dogs are being kept while Auburn Police decide whether the Dairy Road residence the dead dog came from was secure enough to safely house the animals, he said.