CRESTVIEW — On the living room floor of her home in Crestview on a dreary January day, 6-year-old Zoey Green works diligently to construct a snowman from a glob of white Play-Doh.
“It’s Olaf,” she explained, referring to a character from Disney's “Frozen,” an animated movie she estimates she’s seen “probably 100” times.
She squints her eyes to get a closer look at her work of art. A long, thick, pink scar zigzags its way from her chin to her cheek to her right eye, making it harder for her to shut it completely.
As she works on the floor, her mother, Paige Woody, sits on the sofa behind her, watching her every move as she has been for the past 10 months.
She can’t take her eyes off her. Ever since both Paige and Zoey were attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull last March, the pair have become inseparable, bound even closer by a shared trauma. Paige acknowledges their relationship now as a “codependency.”
“It’s just been awful,” she says of the past 10 months. “We’re stuck in an endless tragedy.”
The day was March 25, a Saturday, and Paige and Zoey had gone over to a neighbor’s home on Villacrest Drive to learn how to care for two pit bulls Paige had agreed to watch. She and the neighbor were in the backyard of the home, and Zoey was inside.
Paige told the Northwest Florida Daily News last March that Zoey was tapping on the door because she was impatient, so Paige opened the door just a little bit so she could hear her better.
“I kept telling her, ‘Hold on, baby, hold on, baby,’” Paige said.
The next several minutes were a blur. The pit bull, Mandingo, lunged through the door and grabbed Zoey by the face before he dragged her into the yard. While the neighbor held back the other dog, Paige wrestled with Mandingo to try to free her little girl.
When he released her, Paige threw her body on top of her daughter’s and continued fighting with the dog, shoving her arm into his mouth and pushing him back as far as he would go before picking Zoey up, running into the home and calling 911.
Paige was taken to the hospital and received 28 stitches and around 40 staples.
Zoey was flown by medical helicopter alone to Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola where she was underwent a grueling nine-hour-surgery — the first of many.
Both dogs were euthanized.
The dog had torn off Zoey’s right eyelid, broken her jaw and left her face essentially held together with staples and stitches. She’s since had to travel to Galveston, Texas eight times with her mother to undergo treatments, including three major surgeries to try to salvage her eyes and facial tissue, and extensive therapy for post traumatic stress disorder.
And she’s not finished. Paige and Zoey are traveling back to Galveston later this month for yet another surgical procedure, where doctors will put a titanium plate under her eye and sew her eye shut for three weeks to repair her destroyed tear duct. In March, she’ll have another surgery to have hard scar tissue removed from her face and her scar stitched back up.
Paige said the multiple trips have put a severe financial and emotional strain on her family.
“Financially, it’s a nightmare. The people who own the dogs haven’t given us a penny,” Paige said. “Then I’m uprooting from my two other daughters when we have to go on these trips to Galveston, so I’m taking that stability away from them … we’ve missed birthdays, holidays, things like that, and it’s just been a nightmare.”
No playing outside
Due to her scarring, Zoey can’t be in contact with UV light — which includes sunlight — for at least a year after each surgery. If she wants to play outside, she has to wear a special mask that slips over her head and covers her entire face. Paige decorated the mask with unicorn, butterfly and snail patches, but Zoey still resists it.
Zoey says she likes to play outside, but doesn’t often because “I don’t like to wear my mask, silicone or hats.”
Her silicone patches are applied to her scars to prevent them from getting worse, Paige says. The hats are an added protection.
“She has to wear a compression mask 16 hours a day because it helps push the scarring down and breaks up the scar tissue, and then she wears silicone because it helps to do the same thing,” Paige said. “She doesn’t like to wear those. She’s not supposed to be around any kind of UV light because it makes the scarring redder and more angry looking.
"She has to wear hats and can’t go outside during the day ... we will go to a store quickly and that’s about it.”
Paige also had to pull Zoey out of school after the attack to deal with her surgeries and medical issues. The Okaloosa County School District has sent a tutor to help Zoey with homeschooling twice a week, and Paige hopes to put her back in school at Riverside Elementary in August to try to regain some sense of normalcy.
“It’s sad because she doesn’t have the friends that my (other) daughters have. She doesn’t have the sleepovers cause she doesn’t know anybody,” Paige said. “She doesn’t have play dates, so she doesn’t get to blossom like the other little kids do.”
‘I just want her to play in the sunshine’
In their Crestview home last Wednesday, Zoey was going about her day as she normally does. She made herself a slice of grape jelly toast, played video games on her smartphone — her “lifeline” to the outside world, as Paige describes it — and talked about how she had just learned the difference between “past, present and future” in her tutoring.
“What are we in now?” Paige asked her.
Zoey thought for a minute.
“Um ... future?”
“Not quite,” Paige said. “We’re in the present.”
That’s how Paige is having to live her life these days — day by day, minute by minute, always in the present. She still has flashbacks of the past and is now terrified of dogs. She won’t let her other two kids ride their bikes down the street because she is concerned about loose pets.
“Everywhere we go, you turn around and you see these pit bulls that are not service animals,” she said. “When I go outside I’m constantly looking for an escape route, or where can I put my kids if a dog jumps out. I was oblivious before to how bad it is.”
Paige said her $200,000 in medical debt weighs heavily on her mind most days. Zoey had insurance at the time of the attack, but Paige did not, and Medicaid wouldn’t pay for Zoey’s $100,000 medical helicopter bill when she had to be transported to Pensacola. Over $22,000 in GoFundMe donations have already been used for the eight Galveston trips.
“How do you climb out of that kind of debt?” Paige asked. “I mean, people say, 'sue,' well we’re on our fourth attorney trying to, but there’s not a whole lot we can do. If they don’t have anything, you can’t take it.
“I’m so thankful for everyone in the community who has donated anything at all,” she added.
As she looks toward the future, Paige hopes to regain some sense of a normal childhood for her daughter. Paige knows Zoey will probably always have scars, but one day Zoey will be able to do things other kids can do.
“It basically stopped our lives,” she said. “But I’m hoping that eventually she’ll be able to go outside and play, like normal, in the daylight with other kids instead of having to wear masks or patches to cover up scarring.
"I just want her to play in the sunshine.”