ATKINSON — April Smithell had just jumped in the shower at her mother-in-law's house when she heard a scream.
She ran into the living room and found her 23-month-old son, Ronnie, covered in blood after being attacked by her in-law's 9-year-old pit bull, Hooch, she said.
"I've never seen so much blood in my life," Smithell said. "It was like a horror movie."
She became hysterical as she picked up her son after he had been bitten in the face. She held him in her arms and called 911.
Her son was seriously injured in the attack and underwent reconstructive surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston on Thursday.
"Both of his eyes are swollen shut," she said. "And from his upper lip to his eyebrows is swollen.
"My child is unrecognizable. His twin sister won't even go near him. She's petrified to look at him."
Smithell said Ronnie had bite marks on five different parts of his face, including his nose and under his right eye, which each required stitches. In addition, part of his face had to be reconstructed by a plastic surgeon, she said.
She said she wasn't sure if it was just one or more than one bite that caused her son's injuries.
"Hooch has such a large head, it could have been one bite, but I'm not sure," Smithell said.
The incident happened shortly after 1 p.m. on Wednesday at the home of Cathy and Ronald Smithell Sr., the boy's paternal grandparents, on Waters Edge in Atkinson.
After treating the boy at the scene, firefighters transported him to Parkland Medical Center in Derry, where he was evaluated. He was then taken by ambulance to Massachusetts Eye and Ear, where he was kept for two nights and released yesterday.
His mother, who lives in Derry, said she doesn't understand why Atkinson Animal Control Officer Don Murphy didn't take the dog away after the attack. Murphy has not returned repeated phone calls from The Eagle-Tribune.
Police dispatcher Jodi Consentino said police don't have any jurisdiction over animal control issues in town. Such calls are handled by Murphy, and animal control is a separate town department and doesn't answer to police, she said.
Ronald Smithell Sr. defended his dog, but said he will voluntarily have Hooch euthanized to make sure that what happened to his grandson never happens to anyone else. Euthanizing the dog will also put Hooch — who suffers from painful arthritis — out of his misery, he said.
Smithell said he is very upset about what happened to his grandson. He said Ronnie was pulling on Hooch's bad shoulder to move him out of the way of the door to the sun deck so he could get outside when the dog bit him.
"He pulled the dog, and the dog reacted. It was just an accident," he said. "The dog is almost 9 years old and he never scratched anybody. He was loving the kid and licking him before Ronnie started pulling him. Ronnie was pulling him and probably hurt him."
April Smithell and her mother, Carol Lavoie, also of Derry, took issue with fire Chief Michael Murphy's initial assessment of the boy's injuries as "superficial."
Reached yesterday, Murphy didn't dispute the injuries described by the boy's mother and grandmother, but said he stands by his initial report, which was taken by firefighters at the scene. It stated that the boy suffered minor lacerations on his nose and under his right eye, he said.
The report is based on their observations at the scene, the chief said. The boy was taken to Parkland for further evaluation to see how extensive his injuries actually were, he said, which is the normal way of handling such an incident.
Despite Ronnie's appearance now, April Smithell said a plastic surgeon told her that the scarring on her son's face should be minimal.