Rebecca Oelker, 24, was going through her usual morning routine in January when she woke early and headed downstairs to let her blue heeler dogs, Maverick and Apollo, outside.
She noticed Maverick was behaving differently and wasn’t listening to her so she tried to take hold of his collar to encourage him to sit, but he growled and started attacking her.
“He bit my hands, arms, and managed to knock me over, which was when he managed to get at my face and rip my upper lip and most of my nose almost completely off,” Rebecca, from the US state of Connecticut, said.
“He came after me about three or four times, and I thought I was going to die. I managed to get on the phone to my partner, Stuart, who was at work at the time, and he told me to get upstairs, away from the dogs.
“I was in the tub when the paramedics arrived. I was admitted to surgery about two hours after they got me. Luckily, I had an amazing plastic surgeon, who was able to reattach everything. I was in the hospital for a week, with severe swelling to my face, and nerve damage to my hands and arms so bad that I couldn’t hold a cup or feed myself.”
It took more than 100 stitches to reattach her lips and nose to her face and she suffered severe swelling to her face, which she still has, as well as loss of sensation in her nose and upper lip.
“I still have a decent amount of swelling on my face, and no feeling in my nose or upper lip. My surgeon thinks that will come back eventually, but only time will tell.”
Rebecca decided to share her experience after speaking to other dog attack survivors who said they felt isolated after sustaining their injuries.
“It’s changed my perspective of life, of death, and of how quickly everything can change in a heartbeat.
“It’s been a slow process, but I’ve tried to give myself peace and love and let myself take as much time as I need to get back to ‘normal’.
“All in all, I feel pretty good. I’ve connected with so many people who have been attacked, and it’s shown me a side of things I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise, so it’s not all bad.”
Maverick was put down but Rebecca is still a proud pet owner to her dog, Apollo, despite what she has been through.
Rebecca toyed with whether she should share her story on Instagram, but she refused to be embarrassed by what she has been through.
“Sharing my story was my way of controlling the narrative, making sure I was the one who put the information out, and made everyone aware of my condition,” she said.
“It was freeing to do that, and empowering, and the support I’ve received has been overwhelming. I’ve not felt alone for even a moment throughout all of this.
“However, this is a part of my story now, and I feel a lot of pride in that, as crazy as it sounds. I won’t hide my face, act embarrassed, or pretend nothing happened. These scars represent the fact that I am a survivor.”
“I met death and she said, ‘Not today’. So, my point is this; if you are alive, right now, reading this, there’s a reason. You were put here for a purpose and you’ll be here until it is fulfilled.
“But when your last moment on this planet comes, just know that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I know you might not believe me, but it’s the truth.
“I have so much to be thankful for. For my life, my will. For every person who has crossed my path in the last month and shown me kindness and compassion. For my surgeon and all those nurses.
“For Stuart, who literally spoonfed me my meds for a week and dripped water into my mouth when the nerve damage kept me from being able to hold a cup. And for a dog who reminds me every day that most boys are good boys.
“I’ve been put on a road I wasn’t expecting, and I have no idea where it’s going to lead, but I am ready to embrace it and whatever it brings.
“I want people who have been victims of dog attacks, and who may feel alone, to know that they’re not alone. It’s an incredibly common thing, and it affects hundreds every year.
“I want people to know there is hope, and healing, and a community of others who understand exactly what it feels like to go through something like that. I hope I can convey even a portion of that throughout all of this.”