Plainfield dog attack victim still hopes for change

2022-08-13 03:18:55 By : Ms. Ivy Luo

CANTERBURY — Lynne Denning doesn’t want your pity.

The 62-year-old Canterbury resident who barely survived a vicious 2014 dog attack in Plainfield is still petitioning for changes in animal owner laws, though she admits she’s getting tired.

“I look at myself and I don’t see the damage, just the age,” she said. “But I haven’t given up.”

On Dec. 3, 2014, Denning, then a home health aide working in a Plainfield home on Putnam Road, was mauled by dogs belonging to resident Jenna Allen. During a four-day bench trial of Allen — she was later found guilty of first- and second-degree reckless endangerment and served 60 days in jail — in Danielson Superior Court in May 2017, Denning testified that Allen’s dogs without warning lunged at her face before tearing at her torso and extremities.

Denning had her upper right cheek, parts of both lips, left eyelid and her entire nose torn away and suffered numerous cuts and bites on her breasts, shoulder, arms and legs, requiring extensive and numerous reconstructive surgeries.

“I don’t remember the first two surgeries in Hartford — I was in an induced coma,” she said. “Then I went to Boston for a dozen more surgeries where they removed a rib to make a bone for my nose and took out an arm artery to place in my face. They also twisted my forehead skin down to replace areas where I had no face.”

Two Rottweilers involved in the attack, Phoenix and Malaki, were euthanized in 2016.

Denning, who is considered disabled and on Medicare, said her surgeries are over and not by choice.

“State insurance won’t cover any more,” she said. “I’m still in pain with limited movement in one arm and the scar tissue on my nose means I can’t breathe easily.”

The last of Denning’s civil lawsuits ended in September with a withdrawal of action. Denning initially named the town of Plainfield, its police department and animal control officer, along with her employers at the time of the attack, Allied Community Resources and Day Kimball Homemakers, as defendants.

As time went by, more and more defendants were dropped from the suit, Denning said.

“I ended up getting a drop in the bucket, but nothing worth the return for six years of court time,” she said. “The system is so corrupt, especially in this state.”

Denning praised Judge Hope Seeley for her role in the criminal trial but is still frustrated Allen, who was charged with misdemeanors, was not arrested for more serious crimes.

Assistant State’s Attorney Bonnie Bentley, who successfully prosecuted the Allen trial to a guilty verdict, called the case “one of the most difficult” she’s handled.

“Not just because Mrs. Denning’s injuries were so severe or, despite that, that the defendant Jenna Allen appeared cavalier throughout her case, but also because our laws were limited in their ability to address the nature of the defendant’s criminal conduct that resulted in Mrs. Denning’s life-threatening, life-altering injuries,” Bentley said. “After the trial, Mrs. Denning courageously spoke in support of changes in our laws and there have been other efforts toward that goal as well. Unfortunately, there have been no changes thus far.”

In March 2018, Denning testified before members of the state Legislature’s Environment Committee in support of proposed House Bill 5367, which sought to convene a working group “to examine the prevalence of vicious dog attacks in the state and develop recommendations for how to reduce the number of such attacks and how to mitigate the effects of disposal orders for such attacking animals on municipalities and the state.”

Denning used blunt language in an effort to convince committee members to support the act.

“I just want you to know I almost died,” she said, according to video transcripts of the testimony. “I’ve been through so much in three years and this is my reality for the rest of my life,” she said, pointing to her face. “And anyone who can endure losing a child to something so horrific ... this has got to change. And I don’t mean years from now, because this happens on a daily basis all over this country. This is ridiculous.”

The bill was not moved forward, a lack of movement that’s given Denning a dim view of state legislators.

“I don’t have faith in any of them,” she said. “I can’t deal with people anymore, but I’m happy where I am. I have a lot to do.”

Denning credits her spirituality and the support from a community of other dog attack survivors for keeping her forging ahead.

“People are still dying of dog attacks every day and it’s the kids that are hurt that stay with me the most, but I tell them that it’s what on the inside that matters,” she said. “We need beefed-up laws that force owners of dogs capable of destruction to comply with basic safety measures, like keeping the animals in the backyard when they’re being bred. But there’s no enforcement of the laws we have right now. It’s a joke.”

Affixed to the refrigerator inside Denning’s kitchen is a prayer card with a picture of her husband, Tony Denning, who died in November 2016 just months after being diagnosed with cancer.

Tony Denning, who died as the criminal case against Allen was still ramping up, was a steadying influence on his wife.

“The emotional pain from his death was worse for me than the physical pain of the attack,” Denning said. “We got married later in life and were always brutally honest with each other. We met at a Canterbury pizza place and on that first night he took me on a ride on his bike to the Norwich marina and we talked for hours.”

Denning said she views her trials as “lessons to be learned.”

“I’m not bitter, but I’m disgusted with the system,” she said. “But those are my lessons, even if they rip my heart out.”