Susie, a pit bull mix, was found in Greenfield Park (Greensboro, NC) fighting for her life, in mid-August 2009.
The innocent and playful eight-week-old puppy had licked the face of her owner’s newborn baby. Overcome with violent rage, her owner physically punished the young puppy leaving Susie with unspeakable wounds (a broken jaw, teeth kicked out) and then…Susie was set on fire and left to die.
Dumped in the park, Susie suffered with third-degree burns; her ears burned beyond recognition. She was found ten days after the attack. She survived eating garbage and drinking water from mud puddles. Her open
wounds, covering more than 60 percent of her body, had become infested with maggots.
After two months of intensive, daily medical treatments, Susie was able to regain strength and return to life as a normal, playful puppy. At three months old, Donna Lawrence adopted Susie as a family member. Susie was trained to become a therapy dog to work with burn victims.
Ten months before my attack, Donna survived a nearly fatal pit bull attack. Understandably, she had become afraid of dogs, but I won her heart.
Donna became witness to animal abuse in her own neighborhood--right next door. For a period of five years, she saw the neighbor’s dog chained outside--left unfed, alone and tethered outside in inclement and harsh weather conditions.
Donna began putting a bowl of food out in the doghouse every morning when the owners left town. The neglect and abuse weighed on the dog making him fearful and territorial. Donna’s hope was that her care would help the animal to learn to trust again.
One October morning (just ten months before Susie’s attack), no different than any other, Donna strolled over to feed the dog. The dog viciously turned and attacked her from behind. With her leg between the dog’s teeth, Donna felt certain that this animal could take her life; her life flashed before her eyes. Adrenaline
overtook her panic and Donna tried kicking the dog to free herself from it--which only resulted in elevating the dog’s fury. With bones exposed from her right leg and blood gushing from her hand, Donna was able to escape the dog. It was God’s will that she survived.
“I thanked God for saving my life,” Donna explained. “I knew that His intervention saved me.”
Donna nearly lost her leg and she suffered with life-threatening injuries (45 stiches, multiple medical treatments and the inability to carry children). Her love for dogs was replaced with fear. Even after she had healed physically, she struggled with nightmares, stress and anxiety that left her emotionally paralyzed.
And then…Donna met Susie.
Susie changed Donna’s life. Susie helped Donna to begin living her life once again. Their similar experiences allowed them grow, together, from beyond being a victim to leading victorious lives. Donna forgave the dog for her wrongful attack; Susie forgave the human for hers.
The unity has brought love and trust to their hearts, moved Donna to establish the Susie’s Hope nonprofit, has lent assistance in the passing of “Susie’s Law,” and Susie and Donna continue work to share their story (at schools, community outings, retirement homes, charity events, etc.) to teach others about what their
experience has taught them.
~Donna Smith Lawrence
Three months after I was found, the perpetrator of my abuse was caught and arrested thanks to a tip through Crimestoppers. However, justice would not be served. North Carolina's structured-sentencing guidelines only allowed the guilty party to serve four to five months of a suspended sentence (probation) for a Class I felony of Cruelty to Animals.
Shocked by the outcome of the hearing, concerned citizens began asking what they could do to make the animal-cruelty law tougher. The largest grassroots effort in North Carolina began, starting with the five-member Susie’s Team, which included my mom and me. We went on a county-by-county crusade to get the support for North Carolina House Bill 1690 and Senate Bill 254. A letter to our legislators was drafted. Countless letters and E-mails from constituents began pouring into our state legislators' offices asking for a new, stricter animal-cruelty law, one that included jail time for those who abused or neglected animals in North Carolina.
Several legislators responded immediately, including Senator Don Vaughan. In fact, Senator Vaughan wanted to take this a step further. He wanted a new law, Susie's Law, that would allow for tougher sentencing for those convicted of animal abuse. Concerned North Carolina constituents wanted Cruelty to Animals to be reclassified as a Class H felony, instead of a Class I felony. Under that new classification, my perpetrator could have received an active prison sentence for what he had done to me. Because I was his girlfriend’s dog, he did get prison time due to the Burning of Personal Property, which is a Class H felony that carries an active prison sentence. Therefore my perpetrator could have burned someone's couch and received a tougher penalty than the one he received for burning and torturing me.
The proposed bill reclassified felony Cruelty to Animals from a Class I felony to a Class H felony and elevated the A1 misdemeanor of intentionally starving an animal to death to a Class H felony as well. That allowed judges to determine whether to give an active prison sentence. Those proposed changes garnered widespread support from animal lovers including more than 34,000 fans of the Susie's Law Facebook page. Several state politicians joined our fight, and a resolution to take Susie's Law to our state capitol building in Raleigh to introduce the bill was presented to both the Greensboro City Council and to the Guilford County Commissioners.