By Chelsea Gorrow, The Daily Astorian
It’s been almost a year since 4-year-old Ashlynn Anderson was killed by the family dog in her backyard in Svensen.
Time that doesn’t make the pain any easier for her grandfather, Don Wing of Warrenton, who has started a nonprofit organization to make sure other families don’t have to endure the same heartbreak.
The organization has invited Clatsop County Animal Control and local veterinarian Brad Pope of Bayshore Animal Hospital to be involved in a campaign they are calling Dads Against Dangerous Dogs (DADD). The idea is to get the word out to people to leave a dog alone when it’s eating and sleeping, as well as not approaching dogs, stray or leashed, that people are unfamiliar with.
“We’re going to get them involved and create an educational program for kids to teach them what to do and what not to do around dogs,” Wing said. “Hopefully, we can prevent any kind of accident. Death by dog is rare but there are all kinds of bites and if we can prevent that, we’ve done our job.”
It is all in Ashlynn’s memory.
“Ashlynn was an amazing little girl,” said her dad, Ryan Anderson. “She was super smart, she loved to sing, she loved to dance, she loved to read books, play with her little brother. She was a very special girl, sneaky in a cute way. She had myself wrapped around her little finger.”
Anderson’s death made national headlines, in part because of the nature of the attack and in part because she was the stepdaughter of Jesse Browning and granddaughter of Jay Browning, who appeared in the History Channel’s series “Ax Men.”
How it happened
Jesse Browning called 9-1-1 at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28 from the family home to report one of the family’s Rottweilers had attacked the girl.
“She had just gotten done eating lunch, and her mom was picking up and clearing the table, when Ashlynn asked, ‘Can I go outside? Can I go outside?’” Anderson said. “She said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be out there in just a second.’ So she went outside and somehow the dog got out of a different part of the yard and somehow attacked her.
“I’d seen that dog many times and I never ever thought something would happen, it seemed like a good dog. We don’t know why or for what reason, but for some reason, her mom, my ex-wife, heard Ashlynn scream and came outside.”
Ashlynn was flown to Portland’s Oregon Health and Science University Hospital via a LifeFlight helicopter as medics attempted to save her.
“They were able to get a pulse back, but they lost her on the flight to Portland,” Anderson said.
Ashlynn was pronounced dead on arrival. The dogs were taken from the home at the request of the family.
“We’re not against dogs in any way,” Anderson said. “We’re not against any types of breeds of different dogs. Any type of dog can become dangerous from a little poodle to a Doberman or a pitbull. My message is just to be aware, even if it’s your own personal dog, you never know. Especially strange dogs that you don’t know but even your own dog. Look for signs. It was only a matter of seconds, minutes at the most.”
The veterinarian, Pope, was asked to examine the dogs at the animal shelter after Ashlynn was killed.
Wing later invited him to take part in the program. Pope said being a veterinarian has opened doors for resources.
“I absolutely think this will do some great things for kids,” Pope said. “There are a lot of resources available to me that can be made available to them that were not used in the past, at least in our area. It’s been pretty easy to put the program together. As a vet, I hear about dog bites an awful lot, and for us it’s an occupational hazard, even though we know how to handle dogs like that, anything can happen.”
Some people bitten by their own dogs often don’t report it, Pope said. Still, in 2009 some 4.5 million dog bites were reported in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. About one in five required medical attention; 32 were fatal.
According to the American Veterinarian Medical Association, 70 percent of the dog bites in 2009 were to children 15 and younger.
Because of these statistics, the third week in May has been declared National Dog Bite Awareness Week.
If Anderson and Wing have to travel to teach the program, they will do so, Wing said. But he’d like to have people join DADD in other areas to help spread the word.
For the older kids, Wing said they’ll eventually form a program for them, sharing their story and more of the statistics.
“We teach kids not to touch a hot burner, to look both ways before crossing a street, but we don’t teach them the dangers of dogs,” Anderson said. “Not all dogs would you have that problem, but there is a major risk.”
The organization was just recently launched and a website will soon be completed, selling items and accepting donations to fund a scholarship in Ashlynn’s name.
The website, www.dadd4ashlynn.com, is partially up and running. More will be added to it before the the official launch in September.
“It’s going to be an incredible thing. I mean, I just know it is,” Wing said.
The group will be selling window decals, travel mugs, pens, flower pots, T-shirts and marigold seeds.
Ashlynn’s mom D’ette and stepfather Jesse Browning are putting on a dance scholarship program through Encore Dance Studio. Anderson said they may become involved with the group, too. Wing said the family does not use “step-” or “in-law” titles. Ashlynn saw everyone as one big family and that’s the way they see each other, also.“Something positive is coming out of a tragic situation,” said Don Wing’s wife, Teri Wing. “That’s the big thing.”
Who knew planting miracles, a little girl’s accidental mispronunciation of marigolds, would be what keeps Ashlynn’s memory alive?
The Wings have planted a memorial garden in their yard for their granddaughter.
Ashlynn had once asked her brother, Patrick, to go plant some “miracles” with her and her grandmother, who had brought home marigold seeds.
“Let’s go plant some miracles” has become the DADD slogan.
The garden became a family effort, led by Wing, who said it helped him to heal.
“It was something to just keep my mind somewhere, give me some focus, help me to heal. I had to do something,” he said.
The project was finished by what would have been Ashlynn’s fifth birthday last May, when the family came together to release balloons and plant flowers.
Flowers are planted in different seasons and marigolds are grown whenever possible. A big sign says “Ashlynn’s Garden.” On top of a fountain that flows down the center, a statue stands of a little girl holding a sliver bubble.
“She would have loved to be the center of attention. She was our world,” Teri Wing said.
Teri and Don Wing have license plates, “ASHY1” and ASHY2.”
“People ask me, because of what I'm doing and with my personalized plate on my truck and our garden, if I'm a bit over the top,” Don Wing said. “I respond ‘I have eight grandkids. Just because one is in heaven doesn't mean she doesn't deserve just as much of my time and attention.’”