Bruce Schultz | 4/22/2005 10:49:08 PM
News Release Distributed 2/27/04
RIDGE – It's difficult now to picture 11-year-old Valerie Guidry as a withdrawn child too afraid to go outside. But there was a time two years ago when she was too fearful to walk alone to the barn.
She had become a shell of herself – withdrawn and sullen after a vicious attack by a Rottweiler dog.
Her parents, her counselor and her 4-H leader all credit a kid Boer goat, named Duke, for helping her make a comeback.
But her recovery wasn’t immediate, just as champions aren’t made overnight.
Guidry remembers the fateful date clearly. It was Jan. 9, 2002, when her life took a dark turn.
Her mom, Leah Guidry, brought her to get a haircut that day. Upon arriving at the shop, she recalled, they noticed a Rottweiler on the porch. It jumped up on her shoulders, Valerie said, and she became frightened. As she tried to get into the shop, the dog chomped down on her hip.
"Right when he grabbed me, I couldn’t do anything," she said.
The shop owner, Leah and a boy playing in the yard beat and kicked the dog.
"I was kicking the dog for all I was worth," Leah remembered.
When the dog finally released Valerie, Leah said she threw Valerie into the shop and slammed the door shut. It was then she realized the extent of the injuries.
"She had muscle tissue hanging out of her clothes," Leah recalled.
On the frantic drive to the hospital, Leah said Valerie was starting to go into shock. "I think she thought she was dying," the mother said.
Valerie had suffered 11 deep puncture wounds, requiring four hours on the operating table, and the surgeon found that on one bite the dog’s upper and lower teeth had clamped together.
Meanwhile, the dog’s owner rushed to the hospital with immunization records to show the animal had been vaccinated, preventing Valerie from having to undergo painful rabies shots. Leah said the owner had the dog euthanized after a two-week quarantine.
Valerie missed almost two weeks of school and she had to sit on a pillow for weeks. But beyond the physical wounds she suffered, the trauma to her psyche persisted much longer, and she became fearful of the ordinary.
"It was complete fear from that point on," her mother said. "She wouldn’t walk from here to the barn by herself."
Valerie no longer wanted to ride horses, and when she showed her prized pigs, her father had to take special precautions to prevent her from being frightened by the other animals.
"After the dog attack, it all got shut down," Leah said. "She didn’t want to do anything."
That’s what her father remembers, too. "Everything was just a panic," Bryan Guidry said.
Valerie built an emotional wall of protection around herself as a shield.
Likewise LSU AgCenter county agent Charles Hebert of Lafayette Parish, who worked with Valerie in the AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program, said her personality changed dramatically.
"She was a very quiet child," Hebert recalls. "She didn’t trust anyone after that attack."
Valerie’s parents recognized their daughter needed counseling, and they took her to Lafayette psychologist Ken Bouillion. "We felt it would help her get through this process," her father said.
Bouillion recalled Valerie was deeply traumatized the first time he met with her.
"Basically what I did was to get her to focus on her routines again," the psychologist said.
Bouillion said Valerie displayed the classic symptoms of a child whose sense of security has been upset – sleep problems, anxiety and fear.
The psychologist credited Valerie’s parents for seeking help. "They’re really exceptional people," he said, adding, "I wish everybody worked as hard with their kids as they did. It makes my job a lot easier."
Through it all, however, the family continued its other pursuits, and they brought Valerie along although she wasn’t pushed into doing anything.
"We didn’t pull her away from everything just because she was afraid," Leah said.
Valerie’s sister, Laney, 13, is a national barrel-racing champion, and during a trip to Colorado for the competition, Valerie confided to her mother that she wanted to climb back up on a horse.
"She told me ‘Momma, I think I’m ready to try again,’" Leah said.
Bryan said his daughter told him she wanted to compete in the Little Britches rodeo competition.
But Leah said the real turning point was when the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H program began encouraging young people to become involved in new projects involving goats.
4-H agents in Lafayette started such a program in August 2002, and Leah said Valerie "just took to that immediately."
Valerie and Leah picked out Duke, a Boer goat, two years ago. "I named him Duke after John Wayne," Valerie said.
Duke actually was her second choice. Her first one, named George after country singer George Strait, died a couple of weeks after bringing him home.
Duke wanted nothing to do with the show arena at first, Valerie said, preferring to munch on grass and frolic.
"When we got him, he wasn’t ready to show," Valerie said. "He was wild. He would jump on people. As I kept on walking him, he got better."
Valerie drove a lawn mower to lead Duke at a trot around the farm to get the goat in shape.
Then one day, a yellow Labrador retriever approached Duke and Valerie during a workout. Although frightened, Valerie managed to get herself and Duke out of the situation safely. "I was so proud of her because she didn’t abandon Duke," Leah said.
Leah said her daughter worked with Duke every night, teaching him the proper stance. "Every night she would set that goat up, and if it was raining, she would work in the alleyway of the barn," Leah said.
Valerie said working with Duke caused her to forget about the dog attack. "I felt good, like it didn’t even happen."
Bouillion said caring and training goats helped her find her way back to a normal life. "Working with animals really helped her," Bouillion said. "The care of animals helped her to focus on something else."
Caring for the animals helped desensitize Valerie to animals in general, Bouillion said. But she remains wary of large canines. One of Valerie’s classmates brought a large dog to school for show-and-tell, Bouillion said, and she became upset. The psychologist said Valerie may never get over her fear of big dogs.
He said his wife, Lafayette City Judge Francie Bouillion, was attacked by a Dalmatian as a girl. "To this day, she’s still scared of Dalmatians," he said.
Hebert said even with his experience working with 4-H, he was surprised with Valerie’s progress from working with the small goats.
"You would never think an animal livestock program would have that kind of impact," he said. "We are excited that the 4-H development program played a major role in her recovery."
The lessons she learned have gone far beyond how to care for animals, Hebert said. "Her experience telling other people about what she’s gone through also has built her confidence level back up."
Hebert has watched Valerie interact with classmates, and he has noticed she has become a leader. She’s not one who takes charge of a situation or jumps up to take credit, he said. "She’s more of a servant leader. She will help others help themselves."
Helping young people develop leadership abilities and other skills that will benefit them throughout their lives is the underlying purpose of the 4-H program, which is operated across Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter. And that’s certainly what it’s done for one young person.
As Valerie groomed Duke into a champion animal, she blossomed into the girl that her parents and sister had missed.
Friends, neighbors and relatives turned out for her first parish 4-H livestock show with Duke in 2003, and Valerie handled Duke like a pro. "When she came into the arena with Duke, we couldn’t hold it back," Leah said. "The emotions were running high."
Her father said he welled up with pride. "You can’t explain the feelings we had," Bryan said.
Duke won Supreme Champion honors in the 2003 LSU AgCenter district livestock show in Lafayette. After that, Duke was retired and later died from an infection.
But Valerie replaced him with Buddy – who won Supreme Champion at the parish show this year and first in his class at the district show.
Now, Buddy has been sold, and a brood goat named Dolly – after Dolly Parton – is expected to deliver more "kids" any day now. Those will be in addition to a pair of kids already delivered by another of Valerie’s goats named Belle.
From the competitions, Valerie has a cabinet full of ribbons, mugs and a big, shiny belt buckle. But most of all, she’s got her smile back.
For more details on the variety of livestock projects, as well as projects on topics ranging from environmental issues to computer science, offered through the 4-H program, contact your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.
Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or firstname.lastname@example.org