A Fort Worth runner who was mauled by an unleashed pit bull in early March is not letting her attack stop her from running in the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon.
Caitlin Keen placed first in that marathon last year, making it the first major race she had won in her 13 years of being a runner. Although after the attack she initially wavered about running this year, she credits her support system and the people in Cincinnati for supporting her, pushing her to run the marathon again.
“It’s not really about winning,” Keen said. “It’s about me being back there and showing that their support mattered to me and it helped me. They all are the reason I’m there doing that.”
Running is her safe place, zone, realm of expertise and what brings her the most joy.
She’s determined that the attack is something that happened to her, but it is not her all the way around.
“It’s a long game, not a short one,” Keen said. “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control what you make of it.”
It was a cool Sunday morning. Keen planned on running 15 miles before meeting up with a friend. After eight miles she stopped at her car to check her phone.
Her friend was running 15 minutes late. She knew she could squeeze in a few more miles.
She looked down at her watch to check the time at her turn around point. When she looked up, a large grey-brown pit bull was lunging toward her. Keen put her arms up to block the dog. It bit her right arm and drug her to the ground.
“It was a couple of seconds but it felt like forever,” Keen said.
The dog let go of her arm. As Keen tried running away the dog attacked again. This time he bit her left side and lower back, dragging her down a second time.
Keen fought back.
“I tried to kick him with my right leg, not realizing he had mauled half of my lower back, so I didn’t kick him with as much force as I wanted to,” Keen said. “It bought me a little more time to run away, but it turned into a series of him jumping and biting me.”
Keen’s screams tore through the morning calm.
A woman running on the trails heard Keen and rushed to help. The woman threw a large rock at the dog to divert its attention.
“She kept her eyes on the dog,” Keen said. “I allowed my eyes forward and was trying not to fall over, and that’s when I looked down and saw blood all down the side of me. My pants were completely ripped, shredded into two pieces and my shirt was stained red.”
Tyler Caviness was walking his two dogs. The two dogs caught the pit bull’s attention, which gave Caviness enough time to grab the dog’s collar and restrain it.
Caviness and the woman called 911. As they waited with Keen for help, the dog’s owner showed up.
The owner was a homeless woman, who Keen regards as a “train hopper.”
Keen said the woman had been under the Hulen Street bridge near the train tracks. She told Keen a friend was watching her dog while she went to the bathroom. She hadn’t seen the attack..
She yelled at Caviness, who was restraining her dog, and demanded the dog back. She even tried to yank the collar away from Caviness, but he refused to give the dog back until help arrived.
Keen said the woman did not react to the blood on her shirt or the bites, cuts and scratches on her body.
“She sat there, and she started crying but never said anything to me at all,” Keen said. “She just sat there and was upset about her dog.”
Keen was taken by an ambulance to Baylor Scott and White All Saints Medical Center, where she was examined and received a tetanus shot and stitches. She was advised not to run for two weeks.
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The dog, named Taco, was quarantined for 10 days at Animal Care and Control.
Taco was registered as a danger dog in Fort Worth, but Keen said she does not know what happened to the dog or its owner.
The first time Keen returned to Trinity Trails, she brought along a can of pepper spray and a friend.
“My first run back was anxiety ridden,” said Keen. “The first time I got to that area, my body reacted more than my mind. My legs seized up, I felt sick all over, like my body was reacting to what it knew had happened there.”
Keen said the hardest part was understanding where her body was physically and her mentality.
“It was like I couldn’t make the decision really about how I felt because you’re supposed to feel better physically, but emotionally you don’t.” Keen said.
But the healing process hasn’t sidelined her dreams. In August, she plans to start training for the 2020 Olympic Trials, which are in Atlanta on February 29.
“I love doing other things, and I’m excited to make myself miss running again,” Keen said. “I think you have to let it go for a little while until you’re like I miss this and I want to go do it and it lights your fire.”
Running has been a major part of Keen’s life for the past 13 years. She said the dog attack was an outlier situation that is now part of her story, and she’s not going to let it define her.
“I think running forces you to dig deep into who you really are and how much you can give and what you’re capable of, and it means so much to me because it’s helped me become who I am,” said Keen.