Savaged by a man

It wasn't my dog who bared her teeth and ripped flesh...

Published by: Jessica Gibb and Ann Cusack
Published on: 2 February 2012

There was a scratching sound at the front door. My fiance Mark was obviously struggling with his keys. ‘Coming, love!' I called out.
But as I opened the door, a bundle of white and brown fur jumped up at me. ‘Darcy!' I laughed. ‘What are you doing here?'
Mark gave me a sheepish grin. ‘My cousin and her husband are going to be grandparents, so they can't look after her any more. Can we keep her?' he smiled.
He didn't need to ask twice! I'd fallen in love with Darcy, a beautiful Staffordshire bull terrier, almost as quickly as I had with Mark when we'd met six months earlier. ‘Of course!' I gushed, gently stroking her muzzle.
I'd met Mark through mutual friends. He may have been 10 years older than me, but we were on the same wavelength.
And he had the sweetest, kindest nature. His cousin Marie's husband Ian was in a wheelchair. So every day, Mark would go round to help.
He'd take Ian to the shops, or walk Darcy. I loved going round there to see her.
Now, watching Mark play with Darcy, I saw my little family.
We took our new addition for long walks and, every night, she'd sleep on her bed next to ours. ‘I think she's happy here,' I giggled, as we listened to her snore. But a few days later, I was in the kitchen when Mark came in. ‘Put the kettle on,' he said.
‘A please would be nice,' I teased.
‘Don't talk to me like that,' he growled. There was a menacing tone to his voice that I'd never heard before.
‘I'm sorry...' I started. Suddenly... thump! Ah! Pain flared in the back of my head. Startled, I spun around. Mark slammed his fist into my right eye. Too stunned to scream, I sank to the floor, sobbing, as he stalked out. I was completely dazed... he'd never been like this before.
Then Darcy appeared and started gently licking my throbbing eye, trying to soothe me. ‘It's okay, girl,' I whispered, stroking her head.
Then Mark came back in. I flinched - and his eyes filled with sorrow. ‘I'm so sorry,' he whispered, kneeling beside me. ‘It'll never happen again. I don't know what happened.'
Gazing into his eyes, I saw the man I loved who was romantic and loving. I remembered when he'd proposed. We'd been getting ready for a night out at the pub.
‘I need to put on some make-up,' I'd said, picking up my mascara.
‘No,' Mark had said gently, pressing a small velvet box into my hand. ‘You need this.'
Confused, I'd opened it and gasped in amazement when I'd seen the diamond ring glittering inside. ‘Will you marry me?' he'd asked. It had been the perfect proposal.
So surely Mark deserved another chance?
I'd always thought that if a man hit me, I'd be out quick as a shot.
The reality was much different. I loved him, believed he was sorry. And him and Darcy? - well, they were my family.
Besides, he was struggling to find work, hated having no money. Deep down I knew nothing excused his behaviour, though.
Still, when Mark's 31st birthday arrived, I arranged a night out with friends to cheer him up.
He knocked back one drink after another. Soon, he was drunk - and flirting outrageously with the barmaid. ‘He's trying to make me jealous,' I moaned to Mark's cousin Julie.
‘Just ignore him,' she smiled. But, before we knew it, Mark had glared at us then suddenly upped and left. After an hour, I'd had enough. ‘I'm going home,' I sighed. I walked back in a daze, wondering if I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a man like Mark. I opened the front door...
Mark was standing in the hallway, glowering.
‘Where's Darcy?' I croaked. She usually ran to meet me. But Mark just grabbed my hair and dragged me down to his feet.
‘No!' I screamed, just as my head thudded on to the wooden floor.Then everything went black. When I came round, Mark was sitting on top of me, his hands on my throat.
My nose throbbed, blood poured down my face. ‘Let go!' I panicked. I don't know where the strength came from but, somehow, I managed to wriggle free from underneath Mark and staggered to the sofa in the living room.
I put my hand to my face and felt a round open wound. What had Mark done to me?!
Just then I heard Darcy whimpering in pain. My heart stopped. But before I could find her, there was a knock at the door. I heard Mark open it, then...
‘Did Vanessa get home all right?' came Julie's voice. He didn't reply. My heart thumped against my chest, terrified of what he might do.
Footsteps into the hallway, the bathroom, a gasp of horror. Next thing I knew, Julie walked into the room and looked at me, stunned. ‘You and Darcy are coming with me,' she said firmly.
Mark didn't say a word, just glared as I stumbled outside, holding my bloodied nose. Finally, under the glow of a streetlamp, I looked down at Darcy.
She was soaked in blood, her white fur stained scarlet. ‘What happened?' I wept.
‘She's covered bite marks. Mark's bitten chunks out of her flesh!' Julie said. ‘I found her shivering in a bath of cold water with the taps running.'
My fiance was an animal. I felt sick. Back at Julie's, after calling the police, I gently cuddled Darcy, trying to calm her terrified shaking.
‘I'm sorry, I should have got us out sooner,' I whispered. She stared at me with her pitiful brown eyes,
then nudged me gently. I prayed it was her way of telling me it wasn't my fault.
While the RSPCA sped her to a vet, police took me to hospital and got a statement. ‘Mark has to pay for what he's done to us,' I wept, as my nose was bandaged.
‘He's been arrested,' an officer assured me. ‘You can go home.'
When I opened the front door though, I gagged at the smell. The flat was covered in blood and dog poo - poor Darcy had been so terrified during her attack that she'd lost control of herself. Her blood was in the bath, the kitchen floor, smeared on the walls, even under the bed, where she'd desperately tried to hide.
The guilt was overwhelming. I should have protected her, should have got us both away from Mark.
Back at Julie's, the police told me Darcy was in a terrible state. ‘She has over 30 bites. Mark even bit off part of her right ear and tried to drown her,' an officer said. ‘Would you like to press charges?'
‘Yes,' I hissed. I couldn't stop Mark from hurting Darcy before, but I could make sure he never did it again.
Last October, Mark Helps was charged with assault and animal cruelty at Warrington Crown Court. He was jailed for 20 months and banned from ever owning an animal again.
With a heavy heart, I let the RSPCA find Darcy a new home. How could I expect her to trust me again? I've seen photos now and she looks really happy with her new family.
That's some comfort. At least, she's away from the real animal - Mark.
Vanessa Briggs, 21, Warrington, Cheshire