Police, community step up to help boy, 9, after dog attack

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Hunter Heater’s short life changed instantly in a White Lake Township yard on a warm October day.

The 9-year-old was playing at a friend’s house when two large dogs mauled him, police say.

The attack left him with as many as 75 lacerations and puncture wounds requiring more than 200 stitches on his arms, face, legs and neck, as well as at least 40 staples to repair a fractured skull.

Hunter’s extensive treatments have racked up enormous medical bills. But as the holidays approach, the community has stepped up to help.

Hunter Heater

A GoFundMe fundraiser has raised more than $22,700, twice the initial goal, to support the boy and his relatives during the lengthy recovery. Meanwhile, the White Lake Police Foundation has “adopted” the family as part of its annual effort.

“They shouldn’t have to decide between opening presents on Christmas morning or paying medical bills,” Dan Keller, the township police chief and president of White Lake Police Foundation, told The Detroit News.

Township officers responded to the attack on Oct. 13.

“Hunter told the officer that he didn’t want to die,” said Keller, adding the dogs involved have been removed from their owner. “No 9-year-old should have to go through what Hunter went through.”

Since then, Hunter and his family have faced myriad challenges.

Nicole Bidwell, who organized the GoFundMe campaign, wrote that Hunter “doesn't have medical (insurance) and there isn't homeowners insurance at the house where the dogs lived, so all of this has been out of pocket and as you can imagine very expensive.”

Hunter faces a long road to recovery, “but at least (there is) a road,” his mother, Rachel Heater, wrote in a post on GoFundMe last month. “We all will need counseling for this. This is something Hunter will have to remember every time he looks in the mirror.”

The youth has faced surgeries, infection and many appointments, including physical therapy and a strict scar treatment regimen, while trying to return to school, according to the fundraiser website.

“We are still getting night terrors/ Nightmares sometimes he remembers them sometimes he doesn't. I as his mother and the witness of these always remember,” his mother wrote on Nov. 18. “He still is having a rough time remembering things. We had to ask the school secretary where one of his teachers’ classes were because he couldn't remember where it was. We are taking it hour by hour.”

Hunter faces a long recovery, his family says.

Rachel Heater, who could not be reached for comment, last week thanked the more than 460 contributors to the GoFundMe campaign. “... every penny is so greatly needed. I cannot believe the generosity of people. So THANK YOU!!!!!”

Choosing the family was easy for the White Lake Police Foundation, Keller said. Through the nonprofit, the police department typically grows beards during a “No Shave November” to raise money for a family in need during the Christmas season.  

The public can join the cause by visiting the White Lake Township Police Department and “buying” a beard or make donations until Christmas through PayPal. Checks can also be made payable to the White Lake Police Foundation at 7525 Highland Road White Lake, MI 48383.

“The White Lake Police want to make this holiday season extra special for Hunter, his brother Mikey and their whole family, by giving them the ‘Best Christmas Ever!’ ” the foundation said on Facebook.