[This piece originally appeared as a Facebook post on December 10, 2016, but has been edited for clarity as all of our recollections became more clear and precise over time. See the original, here: https://www.facebook.com/tommy.alderman/posts/10210235201330427]
When I awoke the morning of December 9, 2016, there was no indication that the day would be anything but a normal Friday. It would not be a normal Friday.
There are two homes on our property, situated approximately one hundred yards apart: Patti and I live in one, and Patti’s mother, known by most as “MawMaw,” lives in the other. Three of our four children no longer live at home, and Cory, the youngest, often sleeps at MawMaw’s, which provides her with a sense of security. He usually sleeps late on weekends, as he works late at a local restaurant on Friday and Saturday, and an occasional Thursday.
MawMaw had recently been hospitalized and was to be moved to a local rehabilitation facility later that day. Patti had been unsuccessfully trying to meet with MawMaw’s doctor at the hospital, so she decided to be at the hospital early that Friday morning to try again before MawMaw was transferred to the rehab facility.
We owned an Anatolian Shepherd dog named Duke, who was, at that time, approximately one-and-a-half years old and weighed more than 140 pounds. Normally, before we introduce a new breed of animal to our little homestead, we conduct a lot of research so that we know enough about the breed to meet its needs and ours. We researched American Guinea Hogs, for example, for nearly a year before we settled on them as our choice of pigs. Before purchasing Duke as a nine-week-old puppy, though, our research into Anatolians was not nearly as thorough. Due to the overwhelming amount of information available online, the contradictory nature of much of that information, and due to our prior experience with a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), we thought we knew enough.
Prior to Duke, we’d had a Great Pyrenees named Kate for a number of years. Kate was as sweet and unflappable as anyone could want. She did her duty as guardian of our goats, but was also very pet-like with our family. She exuded authority among our other dogs, which were mostly mixed-breed strays we had adopted over the years, but she did so without visible signs of aggression toward any of them, and she was never aggressive toward anyone in the family. She died at a ripe old age, we grieved her passing, and our experience with her likely created complacency within us.
When we decided to replace Kate, we first considered getting another Great Pyrenees, but then chose to look at other breeds of LGD in hopes of finding a short haired breed that would be a little more aggressive when confronting predators. Kate had protected the herd by positioning herself between them and any direction from which a threat might come, then standing her ground and sounding the alarm with a deep, menacing bark when a threat appeared. Also, because I had to travel occasionally, I wanted a dog that would serve as protection for Patti and our grandson, Tomas, who often spends time with us on the farm. I wanted a dog that would not merely stand its ground and sound the alarm, but that would pursue a threat and eliminate it. Our research indicated to us that an Anatolian Shepherd would be an ideal dog for our purposes, but because of our experience with Kate, and the volume of conflicting information available online, we only researched enough to feed our bias toward what we wanted to hear, and then we stopped. We did not research dog behavior or body language. We did not research the proper training of LGDs.
Our lack of research and subsequent lack of understanding would prove to be costly.
Not long after we brought Duke home, we were reminded by a local dairy farming friend that we had recently expressed an interest in one of his newborn Border Collie puppies. We had forgotten that weeks before locating and purchasing Duke, we’d been at our friend’s dairy farm, seen his litter of Border Collies, and asked him to keep us in mind should he need to place one of them. When he called to tell us they were ready, rather than realizing that raising a Border Collie and an Anatolian together might not be wise, we were excited about the possibilities and naively joked that the dogs would develop an “I’ll herd ‘em, you guard ‘em” partnership. “Our new Border Collie puppy, which we named Fly, was soon with us on the homestead.
As Duke and Fly grew, it was quickly obvious that both of them were very intelligent and seemed eager to please us. Duke looked to me for guidance and was obedient to everyone in the family, especially me. If he was about to slip out of the gate at the end of our driveway, all I had to do was say “No,” and he would return, even if I said “no” from fifty yards away. He was also a very affectionate animal, who would roll onto his back often, and paw at me playfully until I would scratch his chest and belly. He walked right next to me most of the time, so close that I could rest my hand on his head while walking. When he was eating dog food, I could pet and scratch him all about his head and neck and handle his food and allow him to eat from my hand, which he did gently and without a hint of protest. When I offered him treats from the kitchen, he would similarly eat them gently from my hand. There were occasions (some mentioned below) when Duke would flash aggression toward us, then “apologize” and seek affection.
We dismissed those occasions because they seemed rare, because it always seemed as if he immediately realized he should not have done it, and because we just did not know any better. Duke was also an intact male, as we had once thought that perhaps we would add a female some day and become breeders—how naïve we were. Thankfully, we had never located a female in which we were interested. I cannot imagine the outcome had there been two of them that day. I don’t want to imagine the outcome.
Fly was highly energetic and highly affectionate. Patti has said that Fly was the sweetest dog she has ever owned. Like Duke, Fly seemed eager to please us. She sometimes showed aggressiveness toward the other dogs, but we thought it was a manifestation of her herding instinct...her desire to move things and control the movement of others. She and Duke played hard together. We were often amazed watching them play, as Fly would grab one of Duke’s cheeks in her teeth and hold it as if to say, “Enough! Game over,” only to release him and taunt him to chase her again. Though it looked painful to us, Duke never flinched or reacted angrily, but playfully took off after her each time. Fly did injure one of our other longtime dogs, Toby, a Terrier mix, and we don’t know what started the fight. We discounted it, saying to ourselves, “dogs will be dogs.” That was a mistake. We made many mistakes.
We planned to spay Fly, but we failed to schedule an appointment before her first heat cycle and we decided to confine her and wait until she came out of heat to schedule the procedure. That, too, was a mistake, because although we thought we had her confined, she escaped for about ten minutes, and that was long enough for her to find Duke and consummate their relationship. About nine weeks later, Fly delivered a litter of beautiful puppies. Some favored Duke, others favored Fly, the rest were a nondescript blend. We had little trouble finding homes for most of them. The nondescript ones were the hardest, but we eventually found people to love them, too. We’d fallen in love with one of them, ourselves. We named him “Blue” since he had two striking light blue eyes, and we added him to our number. His coat is majority brindle with white markings. The brindle is Anatolian; the pattern of his coloration is unmistakably Border Collie.
When I awoke that frigid Friday morning, I made some coffee, checked my email and such, bundled up with a heavy coat and insulated gloves, and headed outside to begin the morning chores. Patti was still at the hospital and Cory was still sleeping. I fed the pigs, goats, and chickens located in and around the barn, collected eggs, fortified a stall in the barn by attaching pallets to a crumbling wall, then went inside to grab a sip of water and use the restroom.
As a former law enforcement officer, I am usually armed with a .40 caliber Glock handgun, even around the house and on the homestead. In fact, I had been armed as I left the house that morning. When I came inside to use the restroom and grab a sip of water, I did something I had never done before: I removed my weapon from its holster and laid it on the dining table. Normally, when I have to remove my weapon in order to use the restroom, I place the gun in a high location in the bedroom, just outside the master bathroom. That day, though, Providence had me lay it on the table in plain view of the exit door—no one was home, and I planned to grab it on my way back outside.
After refreshing myself and checking email again, I went back outside to finish my chores. Because I had broken my pattern with the Glock, I forgot about it and exited the house unarmed but for my pocket knife, which I normally consider a tool rather than a weapon anyway. I hopped into our Polaris Utility Vehicle, backed it up to the barn to load a couple of buckets of feed, and then drove it toward MawMaw’s house in order to feed the cows and the few pigs and goats housed in the piney woods near there. Unbeknownst to me, until I saw her vehicle in its normal parking spot, sometime before my leaving the barn, Patti had returned home from the hospital as her plan had worked and the doctor had been there early, too. I also didn’t know that Cory had awoken at MawMaw’s, returned to our house, and was inside drinking coffee and watching television before getting ready for work.
As I approached my destination, I noticed that Duke had in his mouth a newly born piglet that had wandered out from beneath an electrified fence, and that the piglet was still alive. There had been a few previous occasions in which I had found Duke with a piglet, but in each of those instances the piglet was already dead and partially eaten. I had never known for sure whether Duke had killed those piglets, another dog had killed them, or they had died of exposure and Duke found them and claimed them. Each of those times, as I approached Duke to recover the remains of the piglet, he would growl a low growl as if to say, “this is mine.” That was enough for me to be cautious, but due to my lack of experience with such dogs and my woefully inadequate understanding of dog behavior, I was not as alarmed as I should have been because the low growl was the limit of his aggression toward me.
Duke didn’t show his teeth. He was lying on the ground and didn’t move toward me, and his body didn’t seem tense. Each of those times I stood some distance from him, ten or twelve feet away, said “no” to him in a firm but non-angry voice, and coaxed him away from the piglet. Each time, I was successful without incident. I would coax him far enough away from the piglet that he seemed to forget about it, would become occupied in some other way, and I would circle back to the piglet and collect it for disposal. Perhaps had he been older and more sure of himself on those previous occasions, they would not have turned out so well.
I parked the Polaris, left it running, and exited it to speak to Duke, who put the piglet down in front of him as I rounded the front of the Polaris. Although the previous, similar encounters hadn’t alarmed me as much as they should have, I knew better than to just march up to him and take the piglet. So, as I had done before, I firmly told him “no” from a distance of ten or twelve feet away and directed him to come away from the piglet. He was growling that same low growl that I had heard before, but this time he was standing, wagging his tail, and his ears were in what I thought was a submissive position. What I didn’t understand then, but understand now, is that not all tail wagging is equal, and ears that might appear to be submissive could be a warning. I had previously thought that when a dog wagged its tail, it meant that the dog was happy, content, or pleased. It turns out, there are ways in which a dog can wag its tail to mean, “I am about to kill you.” I encourage everyone, especially those who own or have regular interaction with dogs, to study dog behavior and dog body language thoroughly. Such knowledge can help avoid tragedy. It would certainly have helped me avoid tragedy.
I maintained my distance from Duke and encouraged him to come away from the piglet and toward me, which he eventually did. His posture as he approached me wasn’t obviously aggressive to my untrained eyes, though he was still growling slightly, and he was moving slowly, but not so slowly as to make me think he was about to strike. Rather, I misinterpreted his pace as calmness. He was still wagging his tail as I backed away from the area in which the piglet was located, so in my mind it was “so far, so good” at that point. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t put as much distance between the piglet and us, as I had the previous times. I knew better than that, but I think I ignored my gut. I think my “normalcy bias,” that human tendency to underestimate the likelihood of disaster, convinced me that everything was fine.
My next crucial mistake, and my most serious mistake, was that for some reason that might remain forever unknown to me, I squatted down in front of Duke to praise him for his obedience. Though I had squatted in front of him many times before—rolled on the ground with him, sat on the steps of our deck with him so that my head was at the same level as his, and laid my head on his chest as we relaxed in the hay—that day the circumstances were different, and we were in a different emotional environment. I should have recognized the danger sooner. I certainly didn’t recognize it soon enough. That was an enormous blunder, especially in light of the fact that at the same exact time as I was beginning to squat, Blue trotted happily toward us from my left, as if to say “Hey! I want some of that affection, too!”
I think Blue had missed the signals from Duke as badly as I had missed them, and I think his presence in close proximity to Duke and me likely sealed my fate. It’s as if my blunders, Duke’s agitated state, and Blue’s abrupt appearance on the scene created a perfect storm of events. I knew immediately, as I squatted there in front of Duke, that I was in serious trouble. I knew that I needed to stand up, but I also knew that as soon as I did, the fight would be on. Unfortunately, I was right.
I stood up as smoothly and slowly as I could without doing it too slowly, and as soon as I was upright, Duke attacked. I think he interpreted my squatting down as my submitting to him, which meant that he then interpreted my standing as a reversal of that submission, or a challenge to his new authority.
He first bit my left hand, through thick insulated work gloves. I know where he bit me first and last, but the order of the bites between those is a blur to me. I tried to restrain him, or at least keep him at arm’s length, as I walked backward. I suppose I was looking for an escape. I don’t know, really; it just happened that I was backing up. I immediately voiced a prayer, asking Christ to help me. I remember that even in those stressful moments, I was grateful for my law enforcement training and experience—I was aware that I was not yet afraid and was highly focused, thinking tactically.
Time did not slow down for me, as is often reported during a crisis event, but my focus was so clear and precise—I knew I needed to get my fingers firmly beneath and around Duke’s collar, and that I needed to control his head. I can still see that collar, as if it was perfectly still in the midst of all the turmoil and action, and can still see my fingers finding their necessary grip. Thankfully, due to the grace and mercy of God, once I had him by the collar, I managed to back up beyond the still-running Polaris before I stumbled and fell to the ground. I immediately knew that I was in even more serious trouble being on the ground beneath such a huge and powerful dog, but I was thankful I hadn’t fallen next to the Polaris, because had that happened, I’m certain that neither Patti nor Cory would’ve heard my screams. The sound of the Polaris would’ve completely swallowed my voice.
As Duke and I wrestled on the ground, I continually called for Patti as loud as I could for what seemed to be half an hour (it was probably only a minute or two). With no response from the house, I was on the verge of losing any hope of rescue. That was a deeply disheartening moment. I knew I couldn’t quit trying to restrain him, but I was at the point of despair “knowing,” I thought, that no one was coming to my aid and that I would eventually lose enough strength, stamina, or blood that I would have nothing left with which to fend off the dog and my family would later find my lifeless body in the yard. I’m sorry to sound so dramatic. I promise you those were the thoughts with which I was wrestling, in addition to having to wrestle with the dog. I prayed that the Lord would intervene, give me strength, calm the dog, and protect Patti’s and Cory’s hearts were I to succumb. It was surreal. I found myself pleading with the dog in what seemed to me a childlike voice, actually asking him to “Please stop. Please stop, Duke. It’s Daddy.” That seems so silly to me now, but at the time, it felt perfectly reasonable.
I used to love the song “He’s an On-Time God,” especially when sung by our sweet friend, Becky. He was certainly an on-time God that day, as just when I was in danger of losing my resolve, when I found myself trying to reason with and plead with a dog, I saw Cory and Patti coming around the corner of the house toward me, and I could see that Cory was armed with a handgun. Hope returned in an instant.
Allow me to digress here to explain what was happening inside the house as I was in the midst of my struggle with Duke. I mentioned already that Patti’s mom was to be moved from the local hospital to a nearby rehab facility where she could have daily therapy to help her regain her strength before coming home. Patti knew that before Cory left for work that day, I needed him to help me load Maw Maw’s electric lift chair into my truck to bring to the facility. As Cory was watching a show on the TV, Patti said something to the effect of “let me go find your Daddy and get him to go ahead and move the truck over to Mama’s house so y’all can load the chair.” When she opened the door to walk outside, they both heard me. Thank God.
On his way out the door, Cory grabbed my Glock, which I had earlier placed, and forgotten, on the kitchen table. I chastised myself for a good while for having left my weapon inside, under the illusion that I could have defended myself with it had I only had it with me as I normally did. I am no longer convinced that I could have even gotten to it considering the thick gloves, the heavy coat, and the rapid escalation of the attack. Rather, I believe that it was the Hand of Providence that caused me to place the weapon on the table for the first time ever, and to leave it there in plain view for Cory to grab it on the way out the door. Incidentally, Cory initially thought he was coming to dispatch an injured pig. Sometime during his run out the door, Patti either corrected him, or he realized what was happening as my situation came into focus for him. Neither Patti nor Cory can recall for certain.
I felt a real sense of relief as I saw Cory running toward me, but I knew I was still in the midst of battle and in danger of death. At some point during the struggle, Duke bit me on top of the head, and had bitten my right ear. I thought he’d torn my ear completely off, but he hadn’t. I was so convinced he had, however , that once the fight was over, I told Patti to have Cory look for my ear. That’s something a son should never have to hear from his father.
Around the same time that I saw Patti and Cory coming, I was horrified to realize that Fly, our Border Collie, had joined Duke and had bitten my left ear in one attack, then the left side of my face in another. Had she only gotten me once, I would have been convinced that she was trying to help me by attacking Duke and missed her target. Her second sortie revealed the truth—she had succumbed to the pack mentality and was helping Duke, not me.
As I looked to Cory, now perhaps 10-15 feet away from us, I told him to “shoot him now.” Having turned my attention to Cory, even though only for a second, I guess I loosened my grip on Duke and he took what I’m pretty sure was his final bite, right in the middle of my face, getting my upper lip and nose. He ripped my nose in half, and the right half was fairly detached from my face. I could see it with my right eye. It may sound odd to think that such thoughts enter one’s mind in the midst of such a crisis, but I remember thinking “that looks so strange,” considering the normal symmetry of the left eye view and the right eye view of one’s own nose.
Immediately upon my telling Cory to shoot, he did so with expert precision, and he continued to do so until the threat was neutralized. Fly fled as soon as the first round was fired, thankfully, though she was later dispatched by a friend who kindly took care of the distressing matter while we were away at the hospital.
Cory later told me about the thought processes through which he had progressed. In mere milliseconds of time, he thought to himself immediately following my instruction to shoot, "Dad's left leg is in my line of fire, behind Duke. I'm very likely to shoot my father in the leg, but that will not kill him...Duke will.” BAM, he fired the first shot. Again, Cory processed those thoughts in a blink of an eye, like a seasoned combat veteran, though he was a normal nineteen year old “country boy” with no combat experience or training. I couldn't be prouder of him, or more thankful for him. In fact, I told him that if he had hit me, I'd be no less proud because he did as I asked him to do.
Cory fired three shots, hitting the dog in vital areas with all three rounds, while the dog was on top of me, actively attacking. Amazingly, after the first round struck home, Duke recoiled, then immediately lunged back toward my face and head—his adrenaline was pumping, too, assuming dogs have adrenal glands. This was no “hit the paper silhouette that’s hanging perfectly still.” Cory’s response and reaction was flawless. It was heroic, and there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that he saved my life. If it hadn’t been for his quick and precise action, I believe with a high level of certainty that I would be dead today. As a pleasant aside, it was very gratifying to hear Cory later say that he instantly remembered lessons we’d taught him, such as “in a crisis situation, obey without question or hesitation.” He did just that. He also said he remembered my saying “shoot until the threat is neutralized.” He did that, too, like a seasoned pro with ice water in his veins.
Cory’s command of the situation didn’t stop there. As soon as Duke was dead and off of me, Cory grabbed me by the arm and helped me to my feet saying “we have to go NOW.” As he was helping me, he yelled to his mom, “Go get your keys!”
I could not possibly be more proud or thankful for my baby boy.
As Cory was leading me to the car (Patti’s brand new, blood-free car!), Cory once again took charge by grabbing my iPhone, dialing 911, handing my phone to Patti and telling her "just talk." Patti looked at Cory and said "THE GATE," meaning that the gate at the end of our long driveway had to be opened. Cory, who's adrenaline had to have been pumping as much as mine, sprinted to the gate and stood there with it wide open as we passed right through. Patti spoke with the wonderful and amazing Lincoln County Sheriff’s dispatcher as the dispatcher sent an ambulance to meet us on the way. By the way, Patti could pass a police driving course right this minute. She demonstrated driving skills that had been dormant due to lack of need, but they were manifest on that day, and she was a pro.
We met the ambulance at a funeral home situated along the route to the hospital (and yes, we recognized the humorous irony of such a rendezvous point). When Patti stopped the car in the parking lot, she jumped out to come around and open my door, though the paramedics beat her to it. I had enough awareness to remove items I didn’t want to take to the hospital: I removed my belt and empty holster, my watch, and my wedding band, then reached to remove my Louisiana State University (LSU) class ring...but it wasn’t on my finger. I couldn’t believe it was gone, but immediately assumed that it had come off when I removed my heavy gloves as Cory escorted me from the field of battle to Patti’s car. There was no time to question that assumption, and Patti said she’d search the car for it when time allowed.
As soon as the paramedics took a look at my face, they notified dispatch to have a helicopter ready at the hospital in order to airlift me to the nearest Trauma Center. I had been obscuring my face from Patti because I didn't want her to see such damage, unaware that she'd already seen my displaced nose. They loaded me into the ambulance and administered fluids and something for pain. Interestingly, I hadn’t felt much pain until getting into the ambulance, other than a slight headache which started at some point along the way to meet them. But once in the ambulance, my head was beginning to hurt pretty badly.
I certainly would have preferred that my first helicopter ride be under different circumstances, but I had the best seat in the house, right up front next to the pilot, facing forward. I had a great view the whole way. I felt a little faint at one point, and my saying so prompted the flight nurse to reach up and squeeze the bag of fluids connected to my arm, which immediately revived me. I later overheard the flight nurse tell those receiving me at the trauma center that my blood pressure had dropped to 70/40. I am still surprised that I never lost consciousness throughout the whole experience, though I did lose an alarming amount of blood.
We arrived at the Trauma Center about twenty-five minutes or so after takeoff, and I was taken almost immediately for a CAT scan to make sure my skull was intact, which it was. Following the scan, I was placed in an examination room in the Emergency area, and was soon surrounded by hospital personnel who examined me from head to toe. The attendant examining the left side of my body, pointing to the area around my left knee, said, “He got you down here, too, huh?” I assured him that the damage had been confined to my head, face, and neck, plus a single wound to my left hand. He replied that there were holes in my pants leg, to which I responded that perhaps Duke had torn my pants with the claws on his back legs, since he’d torn my shirt and caused bruising and deep scratches on my upper chest, just below my neck, with his front claws. The attendant pulled my pants leg up, confirmed that there was no damage to my knee, and we thought no more about it.
There was a lot of activity in that room for what seemed a long while, then the number of attendants began to dwindle. I recall several persons, whom I assumed to be doctors, assuring me that they were going to fix me up and everything would be fine. I remember telling them not to allow Patti or any of my family to see me until my face had been repaired. I suppose my motives were pure, as I wanted to spare them the shock of seeing my injuries, but I regret that decision. They needed to see me, and I should have let them. At one point, the only remaining attendant said “we’ll be back shortly to get started,” and left me alone in the room.
[More to be added as I have time to collect my thoughts.]
My family has been overwhelmed with the outreach we’ve received from so many. The love and concern that has been expressed has meant so much to us, and we cannot thank you sufficiently.
I am expected to recover fully, and to look “mostly” like I did before the incident. Although I requested from the surgeons “early Tom Selleck,” I just had to settle for “late Me.” ;-)
Though I am, of course, saddened about having to kill Duke and Fly in order to protect our family, I am a man who is blessed beyond measure, and quite happy today, knowing that in an instant I could've lost one or both eyes, one or both ears, or my very life.
I may edit this piece as I remember things, and I’m happy to answer questions in the comments below.
Here is a link to a post with photos of my rescuers (we'll add a photo of the wonderful dispatcher who was Patti's lifeline):https://www.facebook.com/tommy.alderman/posts/10210372366599473
Here is the YouTube video we recorded live, 2 days following the attack: https://youtu.be/v0YAApKc7SA (embed below)
Here is a presentation recorded at the Homesteaders of America conference in Warrenton, VA ten months after the attack: https://youtu.be/p1J-tSSD8ZY (embed below)