‘One more bite, and he would have died.’ Mom recounts pit bull’s attack on her son

Kevin Smith Jr. was playing outside his grandmother’s Bradenton home on Saturday afternoon. The home was bursting with family, who were getting ready for a birthday party, according to his mother. The front and back doors open, there were toys everywhere for the children in the family to play with. Adults were going in and out of the house on 30th Avenue East.

Kevin’s mother, Tonisha Collins, left to go buy birthday party supplies because K.J., as the family calls him, was turning 3 years old the next day.

But K.J. and his family didn’t get to celebrate his birthday, because moments after his mother left he was attacked by one of the family’s pit bulls. She returned frantically to the home and was horrified to find K.J. on the ground, most of his scalp gone.

“It never crossed my mind that my child was in danger because of those dogs,” Collins said.

Now K.J. is the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg where he underwent his second surgery on Tuesday to clean out his wounds. The attack left him without 75 percent of his scalp and doctors tell his family he will need several more surgical procedures before they ultimately transplant some skin from elsewhere on his body to rebuild his scalp.

“One more bite, and he would have died,” Collins said doctors told her. “He lost a lot of blood. He’s already had two transfusions.”

Kevin Smith Jr. was attacked by one of his family’s pit bulls on Saturday afternoon, the day before his third birthday. As shown on the left, K.J., as his family calls him, lost 75 percent of his scalp after being mauled by the dog and remains hospitalized. Provided photo

Even though K.J. is no longer on a ventilator and his condition is considered stable, the toddler still has a feeding tube in his nose and is barely awake because of the medications he is being kept on. Occasionally, he opens his eyes or he cries, but he doesn’t talk, his mother said.

Meanwhile, the family’s two pit bulls, Kane and Sugar, may be euthanized as a result of the attack.

Both dogs were taken from his grandmother’s home by a Manatee County Animal Services officer on Saturday afternoon. When the officer spoke with his grandmother, Lottie Miller, on Monday, she signed a release form, authorizing animal services to euthanize the dogs if deemed appropriate.

According to Animal Services Division Chief Sarah Brown, the attack remains under investigation as of Tuesday. Both dogs were familiar to the shelter as strays, but there are no reports that either pit bull has ever attacked before, Brown said.

The attack came as a shock to the family, who have had the pit bulls since they were puppies. K.J. was born shortly after Collins and her brother got the dogs. Both dogs remained at her mother’s home but were raised alongside her son, Collins said.

K.J. was playing in his grandmother’s front yard when he wondered into the back yard, according to what neighbors told Collins and animal services. When he walked past Kane, the dog charged at the boy, grabbed him by the head and began to drag him.

Kevin Smith Jr. was attacked by one of his family’s pit bulls on Saturday afternoon, the day before his third birthday. Provided photo

His grandmother and other family members heard the commotion. From the doorway, Miller saw Sugar standing over the boy and Kane was circling him, the family says. According to all accounts, it appeared Sugar may have gotten into fight with Kane and it was unclear if she caused any of the boy’s wounds.

Both dogs had dried blood around their faces when they were taken by animal services, according to reports.

Collins said she believes Sugar, who K.J. was closet with, was defending her son.

“I never thought he would attack,” Collins said.

But when deputies and neighbors told her that Kane had attacked her son, she thought, “That was believable to me.”

Neighbors who witnessed the attack told the officer that the boy had not provoked the dog.

The two dogs were kept apart, according to Miller, after they recently bred. Their litter of three-week-old puppies was inside the home. Miller said Kane was not out when she left to go to the store.

In the chaos the followed the attack, she said, “Everyone kept screaming, ‘Who let him out?’”

“Kane dug a hole under the gate so no one even knew that he wasn’t in his cage,” Miller said. “He let himself out.”

The puppies were also surrendered to animal services since they are still too young to separated from their mother.

On Tuesday, his grandmother was still distraught and in disbelief that the dog had turned on K.J.

“I just ask that everybody keep praying for him and we are waiting him to come home,” Miller, said.

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.