Mauling victim sues Penn Township dog owners

October 3, 2018
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Amy Demi, UPS driver and member of the band Switch.

Amy Demi keeps flashing back to two moments: a German shepherd’s teeth sinking into her flesh, and the first glimpse of the deep wounds on her leg.

The rest of the attack is a blur, said Demi, a UPS driver and singer from Hempfield who was attacked by three dogs when making an Aug. 28 delivery in Penn Township.

“I wish I could erase that day completely,” Demi said Tuesday. “I just want to be myself again.”

Demi, 41, this week sued dog owners Matthew and Gwendolyn Zavarella in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas. She seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

The Zavarellas did not return calls seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, Demi was making a delivery to the Zavarellas’ Durst Road home when a German shepherd bit her in the hip.

She hit the dog with her UPS tablet, stunning it for a second, but the dog bit her a second time, in the calf.

Demi fell to the ground and two more German shepherds joined the fray, she said. She covered her face and screamed for help.

“This was the scariest thing that ever happened to me in my life,” she said.

Matthew Zavarella heard the screaming and came outside. He tried ordering the dogs off, to no avail, then pulling the animals away from Demi, again without success, according to the lawsuit.

His son came outside and together they forced the dogs off Demi and into the house, the lawsuit said.

“The whole way through it I was more in shock that it was actually happening,” Demi said. “The worst pain. I’m here to deliver a letter, and then this is happening.”

Zavarella and his son delayed in calling 911, carrying Demi into their garage first, the lawsuit said.

When the ambulance did arrive, it took Demi to Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, which didn’t have the means to treat her. She then was taken to Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, which didn’t have a plastic surgeon on call. Finally, she was taken to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh’s North Side, where she was kept for nine days, the lawsuit said.

She suffered several deep gashes on her leg and numerous severe bruises, scratches and scars all over her body.

Demi now is recovering at home. She has physical therapy and visits from nurses several times a week. She can walk short distances with a cane and recently regained the ability to drive.

Her medical expenses are covered by workers’ compensation, but it will likely be a long time before things are back to normal, she said.

“I’m so used to doing everything on my own,” she said.

She’s a single mom of a 16-year-old son, Christian. She’s been the singer with the local band Switch for 12 years.

This is the first year since joining the band that she’s missed singing at the Mt. Pleasant Glass and Ethnic Festival, which was held last weekend. Residents sent her a large get-well card this week, one of many supportive gestures by the community, she said.

“Even people I don’t know have been so wonderful to me,” she said.

The lawsuit said Demi suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the attack.

“Now when I’m around dogs, I shake,” she said. “And I love dogs.”

The lawsuit claims the Zavarellas’ German shepherds have attacked people on three prior occasions and once killed a neighbor’s dog.

The German shepherds were trained for Schutzhund trials, a German dog sport that includes a “protection” trial in which animals are ordered to attack a target, the lawsuit said.

“It’s up to us to make sure these reckless dog owners are held responsible for their actions,” said Kevin Clancy Boylan, a Philadelphia lawyer representing Demi.

Officials from Hoffman Animal Control, which is handling the incident, said it is up to Demi whether to bring summary criminal charges against the Zavarellas. This hasn’t happened yet, though it could in the future, Boylan said.

In the meantime, Boylan said he is working on building Demi’s case, talking to doctors and others about the expected long-term effects on her physical and mental health.

“We don’t know what the future holds for Amy, so we need to get the experts involved,” he said.

Demi said she’s got a long way to go, but she wants to reassure her supporters.

“I’m OK,” she said.

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