Photo by Diane Cox
Jamie and Brandon DeSherlia and their son, Conner, 5, went through a traumatic experience May 6 when Conner was attacked by the family’s English mastiff. Conner, who sustained more than 80 lacerations and puncture wounds that required more than 200 staples, is on his way to making a full recovery from his injuries.
WOOD RIVER — Wood River police officer Brandon DeSherlia and his wife, Jamie, have learned many lessons in the last two weeks.
They’ve seen the power of prayer as well as the support and kindness a community gives when one of their own faces a tragic challenge. Seeing their son walking and returning to his last days of preschool have reminded them anything can happen in the blink of an eye.
“It was a moment, one moment, my 5-year-old wasn’t in my sight,” Jamie DeSherlia said. “Every parent at some point has probably left their child in the living room to use the restroom, put groceries away or gather laundry. On this occasion, Conner decided he wouldn’t be patient and he snuck out.”
At approximately 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, Conner wanted to play in the back yard in Wood River as soon as they returned home from picking up his older brother from school. Jamie let their family dogs, a pug named Daisy and an English mastiff named Charlie, outside in their fenced-in back yard to run. Jamie had laundry to wash and Conner’s older brother had homework to finish before they went outside to play on the swings and trampoline. Not taking no for an answer, Conner snuck out the door to play in the yard where the dogs were roaming.
When Jamie returned to the room, she noticed the back door was open and Conner was lying on the ground unconscious and motionless. She grabbed the phone to dial 911 and noticed Charlie was lying across the yard from Conner and cowering.
Conner was attacked by Charlie, sustaining more than 80 lacerations and puncture wounds that required more than 200 staples. Conner was flown by ARCH Air Medical Services helicopter to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, where he underwent surgery to repair a nicked artery that caused him to lose circulation to his left leg. Conner also had fluid built up in his abdomen from his lymph nodes that eventually will absorb back into his body. After being admitted to Cardinal Glennon, Conner spent more than a week in the hospital. He did not have organ, nerve or lasting skin damage and is expected to make a complete recovery. The only issue the DeSherlias are concerned with at this time is slowing Conner down. Once he realized he could walk again, it has been no stopping him. His strongest memory of the attack was going for a ride in a helicopter.
The DeSherlias’ 18-month-old English mastiff was the newest addition to the family and came with experience around other animals and dogs. Charlie was house-trained and even had gone on family camping trips. Because Charlie was the newest member of the family, the DeSherlias were careful in monitoring the interaction of their children and animals.
“We had started talking over a year ago about bringing another dog in with our family,” Brandon DeSherlia said. “My oldest son and I had been to a business out in Shipman where the owner had an English mastiff. I talked to the owner about his dog and he described the demeanor of English mastiffs as being very placid, loyal, protective and good with families and very laid-back dogs. Being a police officer and gone sometimes at night, those are attributes that I was hoping our new addition would have. My oldest son loved the dog in Shipman and he was laying on this dog, almost swimming on him.”
The DeSherlias researched the breed for quite some time and found a breeder who had a puppy and Charlie, who had received house training and was good around children and other dogs. DeSherlia said the idea of not having to go through the puppy stage was appealing.
After Charlie attacked Conner, Brandon DeSherlia decided while on the scene of the incident that the best course of action was to immediately end the dog’s life. A WRPD sergeant used his service weapon to kill the dog for the family.
“We knew that we wouldn’t be able to let Charlie go to a rescue shelter where he’d possibly be adopted,” Jamie said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with it if another person would get hurt again by Charlie. Our decision and how we handled Charlie may be criticized by some, but Conner isn’t their child. What would they do if this happened to their child?”
The DeSherlias have been overwhelmed by the support of neighbors, strangers and fellow Wood River police officers and firefighters.
“From the time I dialed 911, the fire department was here in what feels like seconds,” Jamie said. “Neighbors have helped mow lawns and the support of neighborhood strangers has been unbelievable.”
Brandon DeSherlia agreed with Jamie on how wonderful their support structure has been.
“One person anonymously paid our water bill for us to take away a burden,” Brandon DeSherlia said. “We are so thankful to everyone that was there for us and for those who just took a knee by their bed for us. I felt that and words cannot express how grateful I am to everyone.”
The DeSherlias still have their pug, Daisy, and while Conner sustained what could have been life and limb-threatening injuries, he still loves his family pet and is not showing any signs of post-traumatic symptoms.