“He just all of a sudden just jumped up and attacked her,” said Kim Riedinger, McKinzee’s mother.
She and her husband Rob were summoned to the living room of their Powell home on the night of Oct. 18 and found the massive dog had cornered their much smaller daughter behind a recliner.
It took yanking and pulling from Rob and some protective intervention from their older daughter’s miniature Australian shepherd, Cummins, to get Tatum far enough away that McKinzee could be whisked to safety. And it was only by chance that Cummins happened to be at the Riedinger’s home that day.
“All in all, we were very, very lucky,” Kim said in a recent interview.
However, Tatum still inflicted serious damage. The mastiff not only bit McKinzee’s face deeply enough to require stitches in five different places (“It looked like he had her whole face in his mouth,” Kim said), he also severed the top half of the child’s right ear.
McKinzee was rushed to the Powell Valley Hospital Emergency Room and later taken by airplane from the Powell Municipal Airport to Salt Lake City. That was after facilities in Billings declined to take on the case, Kim said.
An initial attempt to re-attach the damaged ear was unsuccessful, but another effort is pending. Kim and McKinzee returned to Salt Lake this week for a procedure intended to help ready her for a re-shaped ear. They’ll know in about six months whether it will be possible to restore cartilage salvaged from the ear. The family hopes the damage is only cosmetic and did not affect McKinzee’s hearing.
In the meantime, the Riedingers face significant medical bills.
“We have good health insurance, but obviously we’re at the end of the year and we have deductibles (that) have to be met and co-pays,” Kim said. Insurance also doesn’t cover things like travel expenses.
“I don’t know what we’re looking at, monetary-wise, on anything,” Kim said. “It’s just a matter of, you do what you got to do and you make it work — because this is your kid and that’s what you do.”
Curtis and Erin Bjornestad, who are friends of the Riedingers, have set up a fundraising campaign on the website GoFundMe to support the family. The stated goal is $10,000.
“When we learned of what happened to little Kinzee, the first thing that came to mind was, ‘How can we help?’ We knew that the bills were going to come piling in along with all of the travel expenses for the family,” Erin Bjornestad said.
She sees it as more than a cosmetic injury, noting the damage could hurt McKinzee’s self-esteem, too.
“She is such a wonderful, kind-hearted little girl, much like her mom,” Erin Bjornestad said. “I just wanted the best possible outcome for her.”
Erin Bjornestad added that she’s seen Kim help others in the same way.
“I guess I kind of looked at it as a ‘pay-it-forward’ type situation, if you will,” she said. “My husband and I are local farmers and can’t do much on our own, but felt like if we could get everyone together that maybe we could raise a little money to help out in any way possible.”
The GoFundMe page also asks for continued prayers for McKinzee.
Kim said McKinzee has handled the trauma surprisingly well — not even showing a phobia of dogs.
“I think her dad and I are more traumatized than she is,” Kim said with a laugh, adding, “She’s doing actually really well.”
Kim said her daughter’s biggest fear is that someone will say something about her ear. She wears a cover — artfully disguised as a ladybug — at all times, but “other than that, she’s really, really good,” Kim said.
As for Tatum, the Riedingers do not know why the dog — who was later euthanized — attacked that October day. They suspect the dog had some kind of sickness, Kim said, as he had not been an aggressive animal.
How you can help:
McKinzee Riedinger, 7, is facing reconstructive surgery — and her family has related medical expenses — after she was unexpectedly attacked by a pet in October.
To help support the family financially, visit www.gofundme.com/gkw9pc.