Emily DelToro’s physical wounds are slowly receding, but the psychological scars are as present as ever. After a vicious attack by a pet dog in the Fairmount neighborhood, the 24-year-old college student said she has become fearful of every animal she sees.
In early February, DelToro was invited into the home of Casey Smith by an acquaintance who works for Smith’s remodeling company, Casey Smith Solutions. Smith may be best known as the founder and manager of the Where House, the venue/gallery/grown-up clubhouse that closed in early 2014 after a five-year run. The space is often remembered for serving as an integral part of Fort Worth’s music and art scenes at the time.
DelToro was immediately attracted to Smith’s pet dog. She gently pet the Akita for several minutes without incident before the dog lunged at her face. After sustaining bite wounds on her lip and cheek, DelToro fell back. The dog lunged at her again, clenching her face in its jaws, shaking her violently and ripping out three of her lower teeth. DelToro passed out from shock only to wake up to shouting and screams as three nearby men tried to pull the dog back.
As the victim lay choking on her own blood, she managed to gasp, “Call 911.”
All she knew was that “pieces of my face were in my mouth, and I was missing teeth,” DelToro recalled during a recent phone interview.
She was rushed to nearby Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, where a plastic surgeon sutured her gaping wounds closed. The images on the fundraiser page that she started not long after to help her pay for her recovery efforts are graphic. DelToro is seeking financial help with covering the cost of three dental implants to replace the teeth that were ripped from her lower jaw. For many who read about or shared her story on social media, the incident appeared to be another case of good-dog-gone-bad. Indeed, DelToro’s own words downplayed the pet owner’s culpability in the attack.
“Besides, animals are still animals,” she wrote on her page. “I was in [the dog’s] home.”
It took three weeks for word of other incidents of violence associated with Smith’s dog to reach the Weekly. After one private message encouraged me to look into similar attacks, I began speaking to multiple victims (all women) who had been attacked by the same dog. There are four total.
The recent attack has been “the hardest thing in my life I’ve had to go through,” Smith told me in a recent phone interview.
After the dog was released from quarantine early last month, Smith said he never brought it home. The dog, he said, is now in the hands of an Akita rescue group. The group knows about the dog’s violent history, Smith said. The former dog owner added that he is working with representatives from his homeowner’s insurance to help DelToro find funding for her dental implants. Representatives from Smith’s homeowner’s insurance company have been unable to receive a reply from DelToro’s legal representative, he said.
Shortly after the attack, DelToro’s mother, Yvette Grajeda, saw Smith at a convenience store near her home in the Fairmount neighborhood, where Smith also resides. The mother was nervous, but she approached him.
“I’m the mother of Emily,” she told Smith.
Smith appeared at a loss for words, Grajeda recalled. He asked if the homeowner’s insurance policy was covering Emily’s immediate surgery. Grajeda confirmed that it was, but not the dental implants so far, and the two parted ways. All the mother said she could think about was the fact that her daughter was the fourth victim of Smith’s dog.
“I feel that the dog should be put down,” Grajeda said. “If it happened the first time, put the dog away [and keep it from strangers]. Period. You don’t want to see people go through [what my daughter] has gone through. I feel [the pet owner is] being negligent.”
DelToro was similarly shocked to learn that there were other victims. She said Smith appeared “visibly drunk” on the evening of the attack.
“How did he let this go on this long?” she said to me, noticeably upset. “How can [Smith] be drunk and let people be drunk around this dog?”
Smith denied that there was heavy drinking on the part of anyone at his home that night. He recounted two prior attacks, neither as vicious as DelToro’s. When pressed, he said he would have had the dog removed or euthanized if he knew it was capable of such a vicious attack.
A few days after the attack, DelToro filled out a bite affidavit. The city form details how and when an animal attack took place. Diane Covey, public information officer for Fort Worth Code Compliance, said that city ordinance requires that offending dogs be quarantined (typically at a nearby veterinary clinic) for 10 days and tested for rabies. The Akita was held for 10 days and is up to date on its vaccinations, according to city records.
The attack is the second incident of its kind that the city has a record for, she added. Smith confirmed all of the other, non-documented attacks to me.
“The first incident happened in November last year [and involved] a dogsitter,” Covey said. “She showed lacerations but not to the extent of the current young lady. Both incidents happened inside the house.”
Since neither victim filed a sworn complaint, Covey said, the city cannot intervene. DelToro said multiple Fort Worth police officers failed to inform her that a sworn complaint could be filed. She first heard about the enforceable document through our interview.
A sworn complaint would be submitted to a municipal judge, who would hear the case and render a decision, which could include humane euthanasia, Covey said.
Another complicating factor is that both recorded attacks occurred on the pet owner’s property. For the city to hold the offending dog without a sworn complaint, the current city ordinance requires that the bite occur outside the dog’s normal enclosure, which means outside of the house and off-leash. With a sworn complaint, the offending dog can be picked up, even if the attack occurs in the pet owner’s home.
Nearly 5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and one in five of those attacks requires medical attention. Violent attacks by dogs can result in the euthanization of the pet, either as a requirement by law enforcement or to avoid a lawsuit.
DelToro is so wonderful, Grajeda said. “She graduated early from high school. She is loving life. I’m very proud of her. She’s the oldest out of my five and a great role model.”
As DelToro continues to recover from her wounds, she is reminded that her lost teeth will require further restorative surgeries. The family is working through Smith’s homeowner’s insurance to find if there is a way dental implants can be covered. Smith said representatives from his homeowner’s insurance have made repeated attempts to contact DelToro through her legal representative but with no luck. DelToro hopes to put the attack and the resulting aftermath behind her so she can focus on finishing her undergraduate degree in geology.
“It’s upsetting,” Grajeda said. “As women, we’re aware of our appearance. [My daughter] cried because she had her teeth ripped out. She wants a replacement that is permanent. She wants to be done with this whole ordeal.”
You can support DelToro’s efforts to reclaim her three bottom teeth through her online fundraiser. The link can be found by Googling “Emily DelToro Fort Worth GoFundMe.”