Mary Ellen Merriam stepped from her Alpharetta home one afternoon two weeks ago to hear the chilling wails of children “screaming bloody murder.”
“It was guttural, horrible and awful,” she said.
Merriam looked down the street to see Rett and Foster Godfrey, aged 8 and 6, fighting for their lives with two frenzied Rottweilers twice their size. It was like Stephen King’s devilish Cujo come to life in her suburban cul-de-sac.
“The bigger one is on the older boy,” recalls Merriam. “He’s trying to run away and the dog pounces on him. He’s ripping the kid’s neck. It was the same thing with the little boy.”
Just minutes earlier, the brothers were engaged in a short, pre-dinner bike race to Merriam’s cul-de-sac a few blocks from their home.
As they neared the end of their race, Rett glanced back to his younger brother and said, “There’s two dogs chasing you.”
The younger boy got off his bike to say, “Good dog.” Instead, the beast tore into him, knocking him to the ground. Rett tried to intercede but was quickly overwhelmed. They never had a chance. Rett weighs 65 pounds. Foster 48. The dogs, by witness accounts, tipped the scales at 100 pounds each and maybe 125.
Merriam, who is 60, ran toward the boys, who were lying together on a lawn under the snarling animals. She likened it to lions devouring prey. She repeatedly pulled the smaller dog from Foster but could not budge the larger animal from Rett. His neck was squirting blood, she recalled, “like from a hose.”
She became frantic: “He’s bleeding out in front of me,” she thought.
The woman looked up to see a man walking by in the street. She waved and screamed for help but he glanced away and kept walking.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Scott Godfrey
Credit: Photo courtesy of Scott Godfrey
She threw herself across the younger boy and was bit up herself, although it freed up Foster momentarily and allowed him to run a quarter-mile home on torn legs. She now beats up herself on that. She thought they were kids who lived on the block, a couple of houses down. Instead, they were too bloody to recognize.
“It was like a whirling dervish rolling down the street. They just would not stop,” she recalled. “It started in the street, then went to a side yard, then the front yard. There was blood spraying everywhere, going everywhere.”
Enter Joey Boassy, 34, a foreman of a pool building company who heard the commotion from a backyard but, at first, thought nothing of it. However, something didn’t feel right, he said. So he walked out front.
“Rett had just gotten away from the dog, he was red from head to toe,” Boassy recalled. “He took two steps and the dog was on him on his throat, shaking his neck and just ripping it.”
It looked to him like the boy had nothing left. Boassy sprinted 30 yards and tore into the dog with a right uppercut to its jaw. The punch didn’t faze the dog (Boassy thought he broke his hand). But it did momentarily avert the animal’s attention, just enough for Boassy to get Rett out of there.
“I scooped him up and ran back towards the job site,” Boassy said, where he figured he’d find help. The dogs chased him and briefly knocked him down, but they stopped dead in their tracks when they came across four or five men coming out to see what was happening.
Boassy, a former Marine, took his shirt off and wrapped it around Rett’s neck. He could see the boy’s bones in his torn shoulder and arm.
Rett stared at him, repeatedly asking, “Am I going to die?”
“I had his blood in my eyes and was spitting it out,” Boassy said.
In the meantime, Foster, 6, ran the quarter-mile home, bleeding profusely, and alerted his dad, Scott Godfrey, who jumped into his car with the boy and rushed to the scene, only to see two bikes lying unattended in the street.
Then he saw a man — Boassy — attending to his son. “His eyes were huge,” the dad said of Rett. “There was blood everywhere. He was in shock.”
The younger boy then showed his legs to the adults. They were badly torn up.
They were rushed by ambulance to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, where plastic and vascular surgeons worked on them for hours. Rett had more than 30 lacerations and needed 300 stitches in his neck, shoulder, arms and groin. Muscles were destroyed. Foster endured almost as many stitches. Both spent three nights in the hospital.
Fulton County Animal Services cited the dogs’ owner, Charlotte Claiborne Landy, for 10 ordinance violations, including “nuisance” bites, having dogs at large and no county license. Lara Hudson, who heads the agency, said the investigation continues and will be forwarded to the county solicitor, who will determine if there should be state charges.
Landy dropped off a letter of apology and insurance info at the Godfreys’ home but would not comment for this column. She told police the dogs had gotten out before but hadn’t been aggressive. They were euthanized this week.
Claudine Wilkins, a former prosecutor who founded the Animal Law Source and has helped write laws on dangerous dogs, said several weeks ago she began representing victims in two new mauling cases. The injuries can be horrific, and the carnage from Rottweiler attacks is among the most grievous because of their size and jaw strength, she said.
Wilkins, who is not part of the Godfreys’ case, said a young boy’s scalp was ripped off a couple of months ago in Southwest Atlanta by a Rottweiler as the child’s dad tried to fight off the dog. The boy survived, she said, but added: “I’m tired of seeing autopsy photos of children. What bothers me is most dog bites are preventable.”
After a serious attack, Wilkins said she often hears, “Oh, but my dog would never hurt anyone.”
“How do they know that?” she said.
The Godfreys are considering legal action. “This is bigger than our kids. We want to get the word out to let people know,” said Godfrey. “If you’re a dog owner, be responsible. We want to tell a cautionary tale and help dog owners think twice.”
There have been stories and studies saying there have been more dog attacks during the pandemic, but the head of Fulton’s animal services said she does not think that is the case.
Meanwhile, the Godfrey boys have recovered remarkably well and, with some therapy, should soon be back to their pre-attack selves. Their dad doesn’t know what kind of mental trauma his sons have suffered, but it’s not evident. At least not yet.
The Godfreys invited Merriam, Boassy and his family over recently to show their deep gratitude. Boassy said his kids and the Godfrey boys played together in the yard.
If the two strangers hadn’t acted, then one or both of the boys would have died horribly. “Of that, I’m 100% certain,” Godfrey said.
Instead, they are running around being kids.
“This is a hero story,” said Godfrey. “That’s for sure.”