It was like living in a nightmare for Tim Benge when he heard commotion outside his home and opened the door to find his 9-year-old son, Keaton Hankins-Benge, covered in blood with his head in his hands.
Benge, a single father, had sent his son outside to look for a misplaced water bottle when Keaton wandered into the neighbor’s yard and started petting their dog, an American pit bull terrier. Benge wasn’t around for what happened next, but the dog’s owner was.
Seemingly out of nowhere and without incitement, the dog lunged at Keaton’s face. The owner was able to grab the dog but was in hysterics, according to Benge.
“This is a dog my son has known since it was a puppy. It was completely unexpected because they play together every day,” he said.
The incident happened Saturday afternoon at the Lilly Belle mobile home park near Elmore’s Corner. Benge immediately called 911 and his son was rushed to nearby Mercy Regional Medical Center.
After one look at Keaton, the staff at Mercy called Dr. Ryan Naffziger of Animas Plastic Surgery.
Keaton’s surgery that afternoon took about three hours, during which Naffziger stabilized him and prepared him for further reconstructive surgery. Benge said after the first surgery, he could recognize his son again.
On Tuesday, skin was grafted from his abdomen to cover a large hole in his right cheek. He spent an additional day in the hospital before returning home Wednesday afternoon.
Keaton, a third-grade student at Florida Mesa Elementary, is making a remarkable recovery and handles the pain with Advil because he doesn’t like the way narcotics make him feel, Benge said. The day after his first surgery, he was up and searching the hospital for a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Benge said his son loves to skateboard and plays for the Southwest Colorado youth football and baseball teams. After the attack, the entire baseball team visited Keaton at the hospital with handmade cards and gifts.
Benge said he wants to recognize the doctors and nurses at Mercy who tended to his son.
“I want to shout from the mountains how wonderful the staff are at Mercy. They saved my son’s face and treated him as if he was their own child. I cannot emphasize enough the amazing care and professionalism there,” he said.
The dog’s owners, who are close friends with Benge and his son, surrendered the dog to animal control and agreed to have it euthanized.
Benge said he harbors no ill will against his neighbors and has no intention to seek charges. He declined to name them.
“We are not blaming them for what happened because it was an accident. I spoke briefly with an attorney, but we both agreed it wasn’t beneficial to be punitive. They love my son just as much as I do,” he said.
La Plata County Animal Control refused to comment on the status of the dog, but Benge said it will be quarantined for 10 days before being put down.
A gofundme account was created to help pay for Keaton’s medical bills.
“I don’t like to ask for help, but Keaton’s baseball coach, Brian Beal, suggested we set one up. It will help pay for all the aftercare and surgeries Keaton will need in the future. I don’t want him to be stuck with expensive medical bills later in life,” Benge said.