Ronda Kaysen: It was a new parent's worst nightmare: Less than 24 hours after Chrissie and Michael Smith brought their 3-day-old baby home from the hospital, their dog, Dakota, snatched him from his crib, carried him into the woods and left him there.
For nearly 20 minutes, the frantic parents rushed through their wooded yard looking for their tiny baby. When Michael spotted the baby clutched in Dakota's jaw, he assumed the worst; child that small could likely never survive a trauma like that -- especially one born three weeks early who weighed less than six and a half pounds.
But when Michael did find little Alexander James ("A.J.") lying in the woods, the baby was still alive. He had suffered serious injuries, though: a fractured skull, a serious gash in his cheek and two collapsed lungs.
Now, nearly a year later, Michael has written a book about that fateful July day, entitled "Could It Happen to You?" He hopes that his family's nightmare will serve as a cautionary tale for other families.
Momlogic talked to Michael in his home near Lexington, Kentucky, to find out more about how the Smith family is doing now that the media frenzy that surrounded their story has died down.
momlogic: A.J. was bitten last July. How is he doing now?
Michael Smith: He's doing great. Getting real close to walking, saying a few words here and there ... but everything seems to be normal.
ml: What was it like having your dog snatch your newborn?
MS: It's a nightmare. It's a shock. He's 3 days old and you think the worst. There's no way you think he can live through that, especially when we saw him in [Dakota's] mouth. She was carrying him like a loaf of bread. One good bite, and A.J. wouldn't be here.
ml: How long was he in the hospital?
MS: Two weeks. His recovery time was amazing. After the first week, we had a good idea that he was going to make it, but it was a month or two before we were confident there weren't any neurological disorders.
ml: Where is Dakota now?
MS: We picked a place out for her, but I can't say where it is.
ml: Many of the reports said that she is part wolf, and initially you said her breed is 90 percent wolf. Is that correct?
MS: No, she's a Native American dog. She is the most passive dog. She steals stuff -- wallets, food -- but she's a very, very nonaggressive dog. My best guess is that it was like a mothering-type instinct. She laid him down on her paws.
ml: At one point, you wanted to bring Dakota back home. You got a lot of serious criticism in the press for that. What made you want to bring her back after what happened to A.J.?
MS: The bottom line is, we were proven innocent by everybody. We went to the Grand Jury. We put up three layers of security for the house. Dakota had been found completely nonaggressive. After a while, my heart softened. But we wanted to bring her back without any fanfare. It was a media circus around here. The last thing we wanted to do was impact our neighbors. Once it got leaked to the press, we said we couldn't do that. We had a place picked out for her already, so we sent her there.
ml: Your experience was a national story, and some people were very critical of your family. What's it like being in the midst of a national story like that while your child is fighting for his life in a hospital?
MS: It was pretty strange. The phone rang 20, 30 times a day. I couldn't watch TV. Every night on the news there'd be something about A.J. Then it turned pretty bad when we asked for Dakota back. One thing I did learn from this is how quickly people judge without having any information. You don't know what people's lives are and what they're going through. It's definitely changed the way I surf the Internet.
ml: Do you still have dogs in the house?
MS: Yes, we have two: another Native American dog and a Lab. For the first six months, it was very difficult; I was over-the-top cautionary. We don't leave [A.J.] alone with them. But he enjoys playing with them. They're nonaggressive. The Lab just waits for him to drop his food so he can eat it. She's about as passive as you can get.
ml: You have two sons from a previous marriage. They're 14 and 16 -- old enough to read the papers. How did they handle it all?
MS: They were really pretty strong. Initially it was pretty hard for them; they had a lot of emotions. They were most appreciative of all the support they got from their friends. They wanted Dakota to come back. We raised her. She was like a family member to start with, but obviously once they knew we weren't getting her back they were pretty heartbroken.
ml: How will you tell A.J. about this?
MS: When he gets old enough to read and mature enough, we'll give the book to him: "Here's your story, buddy."
ml: Why did you decide to write the book?
MS: I wrote it for me, to relieve my stress and relieve my feelings and get a handle on what happened. I started doing some research about the number of dog bites. The number of people who go to the ER every day for dog bites is crazy. If I can help one parent or one family member to take one extra step to protect their children, then I've done something.
ml: What advice would you give other new parents?
MS: As safe as you think you've got your house, it's not safe enough. We ran downstairs for two minutes and the dogs were downstairs and they snuck out the back door and snuck into the room. Don't go downstairs. Don't go in another room unless you know the door is barricaded. Just take that extra step.