Julie Teffeteller said she cried out for her Maltese puppy Bibble as soon as she saw a large pit bull-mix pushing the 5-pound puppy with its nose Sunday at the Wannamaker Dog Park in North Charleston.
Bibble sprinted toward her, Teffeteller said, but so did the larger dog.
The 23-year-old Air Force officer said she nearly caught Bibble as she leapt toward her, but the pit bull-mix grasped the puppy first.
"She slipped right through my fingers," Teffeteller said through tears Monday. "I almost had her. He was just too fast. There was no way she was going to beat him."
Teffeteller watched the muscular dog grab the puppy with its jaws and shake it. One bite was all it took, she said. She and her husband, Branndon, watched the 9-month-old puppy bleed to death in front of them.
"He tore into her like he would have torn into a squirrel," Julie Teffeteller said.
Both the pit bull's owner and Charleston County Park and Recreation officials said Monday that they were devastated by the fatal attack. Executive Director Tom O'Rourke said dog owners know they assume all responsibility when they use the dog parks, but he plans to push for new fencing that will separate smaller dogs from larger dogs to help prevent it from happening again.
Judi Telford, the mother of the 17-year-old girl who took their dog, Rocket, to the park, shed her own tears Monday when she found out that Bibble died.
Telford said she and her daughter are dog lovers who volunteer at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where they adopted the 5-year-old female. The dog has never hurt anyone or anything before, she said.
"We're just so, so sorry for her loss," Telford said of Teffeteller. "We feel terrible about the whole thing."
Telford said her daughter took the family's two dogs to the park Sunday to get some sun and exercise. She was there for about an hour when the dogs ran off. "All of a sudden, she was trying to pull Rocket away," Telford said. "A lot of people were yelling at her. She felt awful."
The teen gave her name and phone number to Teffeteller and left with the dogs. The teen's mom said she called her from the car, shaken up. There was some confusion initially because the phone number she gave to Teffeteller was off by a digit. North Charleston Police identified the Telfords through the license plate number taken by a park official, but Public Information Officer Spencer Pryor said no charges will be filed because it is a civil matter.
O'Rourke said the fatal attack was the first to happen at any of the county's three dog parks. He said several witnesses to Sunday's attack have recommended they provide a special area for smaller dogs, something he expects to be implemented at the Wannamaker and James Island dog parks "sooner rather than later." The dog park at Palmetto Islands already has a makeshift pen for small dogs made out of extra fencing left over from a dog event, he said.
Park officials said posted signs warning owners that their dogs' behavior is their responsibility, along with a dog-loving community that polices itself, have kept the dog parks a safe place for all dogs for more than two years.
Still, they're fortunate something like this hasn't happened sooner, O'Rourke said. He said he knows from conversations with dog park representatives from across the country that something like this was bound to happen eventually, especially when considering that the three parks get more than 100,000 dogs a year. That averages out to more than 300 dogs a day.
"It was just a matter of time, statistically speaking," he said.
The park is not going to consider banning any particular breed of dog, he said. He said he doesn't know of any dog parks that do that.
"We have not and will not be getting into the business of banning whole breeds of dogs," he said.
That's good news to the Teffetellers. The couple has their own pit bull-mix and a doberman that they've trained to be social since they were puppies.
They don't want to see pit bulls banned from the parks, but they would like to see people take responsibility for their dogs, as the signs say.
Teffeteller and Telford spoke over the phone Monday. Telford apologized and promised to get Rocket socialized and trained.
After the conversation, Teffeteller said she has no ill will toward the family or their dog. She hopes people will read about the experience and get their own dogs trained.
"We don't believe in bad dogs," she said. "We just believe in bad owners."