Marj Lewis, an 81-year-old life-long Ono resident, was mauled Monday afternoon by a pair of pit bulls after she'd walked to her neighbor's yard to deliver a phone message to the neighbor from the neighbor's husband.
Lewis had brought along her small dog, Katie, referred to widely by those who know Lewis as the woman's "baby", a dog she's had since it was a puppy, a gift from her friend, Chic Miller, of Bella Vista Farms.
As Lewis entered the yard, the pit bulls charged and attacked Katie. When Lewis tried to protect her dog, the pit bulls turned their attack on the 81-year-old woman. The dogs mauled Lewis, who sustained serious injuries, including damage to her face, jaw, arms and back.
An unconfirmed report said that the pitbulls' owner may have used a crow bar in her attempt to break up her dogs' attack on Lewis.
Lewis was loaded into a car where she was driven from her remote Ono home to a spot where she was helicoptered to Mercy Medical Center's emergency room. She was taken into surgery the following day.
According to a Shasta County Sheriff's Office press release, animal regulation officers responded to the attack at Rector Creek Road in Ono where Lewis was attacked. Officers determined that the two pit bulls posed a threat to public safety, and the dogs were removed from the property.
In the tiny Igo/Ono/Platina community west of Redding, residents are shaken by the attack on Lewis, a beloved woman known for her stooped posture, white hair, wide smile and cheerful disposition. She's also known for her energy and passion for plants and her love of animals and sleeping outdoors under the stars.
Lewis is a master gardener, and volunteered at the Public Health Department in Anderson to help create a community garden. She's a regular volunteer at Bella Vista Farms, and has organized and helped at many community activities and organizations, such as the Igo/Ono Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary, the Igo/Ono Farmers Market, and the Raney-Katie Fund, that cares for needy animals, named for her dogs, both rescues.
She's the kind of woman inclined to welcome "flat-lander" newcomers to the Igo/Ono area with a gift of deer-proof plants, complete with suggestions of where exactly in the yard it should be planted.
Within the Igo/Ono/Platina area, emails and phone calls are not just spreading the news of what happened to Marj Lewis, but people are mobilizing to help. For now, the biggest concern - other than for Lewis' recovery - is to take turns staying at Lewis' remote Ono home and caring for Lewis' gardens, as well as her animals, which includes three donkeys, two goats, four chickens, two cats, three rescue fawns and two dogs.
Katie, the dog Lewis tried to save from the pit bulls, did not survive.
Chic Miller, owner of Bella Vista Farm, a sanctuary for about 600 rescued and injured animals, said Lewis' dog, Katie, has the distinction of being the only Bella Vista Farm animal Miller ever gave away, breaking her own long-standing policy. Miller said one of her rescue dogs arrived pregnant and gave birth to one small puppy - Katie. Lewis was so smitten with the little dog that Miller gave it to her after it was weaned.
"I really, truly don't have words to say how shocked and sad I am, " Miller said Tuesday night.
"My heart is just wrenching that she's hurt. The irony is that something so horrific could happen to someone so wonderful, someone who works with animals and cares for them 24/7. She's my dear, dear friend and I'm devastated."
Jim Wilson of Igo is active with the area's Neighborhood Watch organization, and is often the one who emails alerts to the citizens about everything from fires and thefts to lost horses and the annual Christmas parade and tree sale. Tuesday, he sent out the email about Marj Lewis, someone he said has earned the community's love and support.
"She has never changed," Wilson said. "Marj is always ready to help and pitch in and work her tail off."
Regarding the fate of the pit bulls that attacked Lewis, the dogs were seized by officers immediately under the Food and Agriculture Code 31625. Also, officers determined that the dogs' actions and behaviors met the criteria of a “Potentially Dangerous/Vicious Dog” as defined in section 31602 and/or section 31603 of the Food and Agriculture Code. Subsequently, the dogs were impounded and are in quarantine pending further investigation.
Meanwhile, in the Igo/Ono area, Miller and others are trying to stay as positive as possible under the circumstances. They've heard preliminary reports that the injuries Lewis suffered were severe, and she may be unable to use her hands and arms for some time.
"The thing about Marj is she has a lot of friends who love her," Miller said. "We will rally around her, and of course we are all hoping for her full recovery. But I'm afraid that it may take a very long time."