An attack by a German shepherd mix on a labrador retriever over Memorial Day weekend has left a family questioning if they’ll ever return to Rehoboth Beach and warning other dog owners about the lack of emergency veterinarian services on weekends in the Cape Region.
Val James said she and her husband had come to Rehoboth for a weeklong vacation that began Memorial Day weekend. While on a walk Sunday evening, she said, two dogs rushed out of a zippered front porch and attacked Lightning, her labrador retriever.
“As I saw the dogs dash off the porch toward me, I ran into the street. I held my dog Lightning’s leash and was dragged down the street by the attacking dogs,” said James, in an email May 31. “I screamed and screamed for help. Several very brave guys who were headed to the beach rushed over and tried to pull the attacking dog off Lightning’s neck. It took some time for them to disengage the [dog]. They pulled the [dog’s] back legs up in the air and were yanking with all their might.”
After what seemed like an eternity, said James, the men were able to free her dog.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that my sweet, docile, yellow lab would be dead now were it not for their bravery,” said James.
Jon Wile, visiting from North Carolina, is the owner of the dogs. He said the night of the incident, he and his wife were out to dinner when he got a phone call that the dogs had gotten loose, and that the German shepherd mix had bitten another dog, while their other dog, a pit bull, was running around.
“As soon as I got the phone call, I ran back to the house,” said Wile, who was ultimately not charged with anything or fined for the incident. He said he provided proof of up-to-date medical records and vaccinations to Rehoboth Beach police and an animal control officer. “When I got there, the owner of the dog that was bitten was in shock, which she had every right to be.”
Wile said it’s possible the dog was tired and agitated from having his stomach pumped and being on medication for a few days after it ate some of his son’s raisins. Both of these dogs are rescue dogs and they’ve never bitten anyone before, he said.
“I don’t really know what happened, but it’s an unfortunate incident,” he said. “I’ve offered to pay for the veterinarian bills.”
In an email June 2, Rehoboth police spokesman Lt. Jamie Riddle said he could not confirm all the details provided by James, but did confirm the police responded to the incident.
Riddle said officers were dispatched to the second block of Stockley Street for what was reported as people fighting in the street. Upon arrival, officers determined the incident was related to a dog bite and by that point, all parties, including the dogs, had been separated.
According to individuals on scene at the time of the incident, said Riddle, two dogs described as pit bulls, which was not confirmed, escaped from a residence on Stockley Street and attacked a labrador retriever being walked by James. As a result of the attack, he said, James was knocked to the ground, causing minor injuries to her hand, and her dog sustained puncture wounds to its neck.
“All parties involved were cooperative with officers on scene. No one was arrested by the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, as this incident was turned over to animal control for further investigation,” said Riddle, adding there have been dog attacks in Rehoboth before, but the last one happened in 2020. “I would consider this an isolated incident.”
Adding insult to injury, James said, there were no vets immediately available in the area on a Sunday. The closest available animal care facility was the Delmarva Animal Emergency Center in Dover, she said.
“With so many summer visitors bringing their pets along, it seems like Rehoboth could use more vets,” she said. “After an hour’s drive and a two-and-a-half-hour wait outside the clinic, my dog received care. It was 1 a.m. when we got back.”
James said the veterinarians told her the wounds needed to remain open to avoid infection from the deep punctures. Because the wounds are on the dog’s neck, she can’t be collared and leashed, James said.
James said they had to sign an agreement not to let their dog near other dogs for 45 days, even though her rabies vaccines were current and she was administered a rabies booster at the clinic.
Monetarily, James said, they lost about $3,000 on their beach rental because the house they rented for a week didn’t have a fenced-in yard, so they returned to Arlington, Va. Additionally, she said, there’s well over $500 in vet bills.
“Who knows how much care she will need in Arlington,” said James.
James said she and her husband have visited Rehoboth more than a dozen times, but after this terrifying episode, she said, she doubts that they’ll ever return.
“I am 70 years old, and this is the most terrifying incident in my lifetime,” said James.