Note: This article contains mention of miscarriage and still birth.
Note: This article contains mention of miscarriage and still birth.
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The dad of a toddler whose face was "ripped off" by a pitbull says there should be tighter restrictions around "dangerous" breeds - including the XL bully. JJ Rodriguez, now three, was playing outside in his front yard with his older sisters just before he was brutally attacked by a neighbour's pitbull on February 20, 2022. The tot was left in a critical condition after the attack with his face ripped apart, his skull exposed, and his jaw torn apart. His injuries were so severe a priest was called to his bedside. JJ had to stay in the Oklahoma Children's Hospital for three-and-a-half months and has since had 12 surgeries - including extensive facial reconstruction. JJ's dad, Jose, 34, believes "when you own a pitbull, you’re putting everyone around you at risk". Jose, a forklift operator, from Spencer, Oklahoma, US, said: “JJ was a dog lover - but these pitbulls scalped him - they took his nose, jaw and cheekbones off. “People have tried to say it was our fault for allowing JJ to play around the dogs - but the reality is, when you own a pitbull, you’re putting everyone around you at risk.” The incident happened when Jose and his wife, Cassandra, 33, a stay-at-home mum, let their seven children play outside. Cassandra watched them from the front door as they played with teddy bears and sat down by some flower beds, while Jose was showering before work. After he got out of the shower, he spoke to Cassandra - who picked up their youngest child, Olivia, then five months old, and took her inside for "a minute". In the time it took for Cassandra to turn her back - the pair heard JJ begin to scream - and came out to find three pitbulls dragging him along. Jose said: “I started screaming 'no' and I just ran towards the dogs. “I was fighting with them - trying to physically put myself between them and JJ. "I got injured too - but it was like nothing compared to what happened to him. “These dogs did not want to stop - it was like a pack mentality. They wanted to kill my son.” After 30 seconds of struggle between Jose, JJ and the dogs - Jose saw his opportunity when the “leader” opened its mouth - and threw his arm in there, giving JJ time to escape. They ran off but JJ was left with life-threatening injuries. His sister, Khloe, 13, dialled 911. “I turned JJ around,” Jose said. “I thought he was dead. But then, he started crying and I was filled with hope. “I looked at his face, and there was just nothing there. I could see into his throat - and he was choking on his own blood. “I’m usually such a highly-strung, stressed-out kind of guy. But I was extremely calm. I kept rubbing his back, telling him he was going to be OK.” The family did exactly as the 911 operator instructed - wrapping JJ’s entire head up in order to keep his wounds clean. But when the firefighters - who were first on the scene - arrived, they immediately called for back up. Jose said: “I heard the firefighter say ‘oh f**k. This baby’s dying.’ “We drove to the hospital, after the ambulance took him away. It was the longest ride of my life.” JJ was rushed into surgery - and his parents were told his chances of surviving were low. “The nurse told us about dog attacks on toddlers and how 70 per cent of the time, they’re fatal,” Jose said. “And we knew JJ had been attacked by multiple dogs. “The surgeon even asked us if we’d like to call a priest.” JJ was in surgery for 16 hours - he had a tracheostomy, “his face stitched back together”, and a feeding tube inserted. He was placed into an induced coma for four days and stayed in hospital for three months. JJ says Jose became frightened of dogs after the attack and even struggled with dogs barking on cartoon Paw Patrol. “A psychologist came in and said he now has a fear of dogs which will be detrimental to his life,” Jose said. “We had to make the difficult decision to let him try exposure therapy - which involved working with a therapy dog. “It’s been very effective - and JJ is now fine with dogs, for the most part.” JJ is still in recovery - and surgeons have predicted he’ll need a further 30 to 40 operations in his lifetime. He continues to be treated with recreational, exposure and occupational therapy - and has needed to learn to walk, talk, sleep and eat again from scratch. Jose said: “JJ is extremely confident - in fact, he radiates confidence - he has a very loud and charming personality. “He agrees with people when they say he’s a hero - and he’s obsessed with the idea of becoming a policeman when he grows up. “He’s goofy, he’s silly, he loves to prank people - and he’s intelligent, too.” Alongside JJ’s rehabilitation, Jose and Cassandra are fighting for more legislation surrounding dangerous dogs - and they believe the current laws in Oklahoma are “archaic”. Jose said: “In the state of Oklahoma, dog bites are very outdated. "We have this thing called the ‘One Bite’ law - in which country dogs are allowed one free bite. “I didn’t know any of this until it happened to my son. “The jaw-dropping thing is - nurses told us he was the 35th dog bite case they’d seen so far that year. It was February.” Since the government in the UK announced plans to ban the XL bully by the end of the year, Jose said his family’s activism has been partially blamed by social media users - despite being US-based. “We got a ton of hate as soon as the XL bully ban was announced,” he said. “We’ve had to block hundreds of people over the last five days alone. “They say JJ’s story makes these breeds ‘look bad’ - but we need to be realistic. "It’s clear as day that all dogs have inherent genetic traits. “Golden Retrievers retrieve, right? So why is it that when it comes to breeds like pitbulls and bullies, it’s suddenly all about how they’re raised? “We have to address the main issue. "I want people to be cautious around all dangerous breeds. "Of course, all dogs attack - but these seem to be the problem children.”
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