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Girl, 3, recovering after dog attack in Chevak

On April 18, 2021 dogs attacked a 3-year old girl in Chevak. She was transported to Anchorage for surgery for her injuries. Her mother plans to file charges against the neighbors who she says own the dogs. She’s also calling on the city to put down the animals.

(Editor's note: KNBA made the editorial decision not to republish a photo of the girl provided by her mother that shows the child recovering from surgery. The photo is available here if readers wish to view it.)

Laverna Paniyak lives in Chevak with her four young children. She was breastfeeding her infant daughter on April 18. Paniyak’s 10-year-old son had gone outside to play, and her daughter, Amaya Santillana, 3, ran outside to find her brother.

“My niece, she happens to look out the window because she heard screaming, like screaming and crying,” Paniyak said. “She looks out the window and she says the dogs are on top of her.”

Paniyak’s niece ran outside and chased three pitbulls away that she said ran to the neighbor who she says owns the dogs. She said that the neighbor led the dogs back towards his house on a snowmachine. She picked up her cousin, who was in bad condition, and handed her to Paniyak.

“I can only imagine how terrified my daughter was and how much pain she was in,” Paniyak said.

Paniyak and her daughter flew to Bethel that evening for Amaya’s first round of surgeries, and then to Anchorage the next day for further treatment. Amaya was bleeding from her eye, needed staples in her head, and required stitches in multiple places on her face and on her back. Paniyak said that her 3-year-old daughter is recovering.

“I’m very, very emotional about this and very, very upset, but I'm happy that, you know, she's still here. And that, you know, she was given another chance to live, and another chance to fight, and then another chance to be my daughter,” Paniyak said.

Right after Amaya was attacked, Paniyak called the neighbors who she said own the dogs and told them she was going to put down the dogs that attacked her daughter. She said that neighbor then walked out of his house, told her he would shoot her for threatening his dogs, and called her a racial slur. Paniyak is African American, Cu’pik, and Mohican. She walked back into her house to call the Alaska State Troopers.

“And as I was kicking off my boots, I hear four rounds go off,” Paniyak said.

Her niece, Aaliyah Paniyak-Hill, was watching the neighbor who she said walked outside his house with a gun.

“I saw the owner of the dog on the porch with a gun shooting in the air towards our house,” Paniyak-Hill said.

Troopers from the St. Mary’s post responded within a few hours. In a phone call with KYUK, Sergeant Kevin Yancey said that an investigation into the dog attack is ongoing. Yancey said that troopers cannot put the dogs down, saying that would be within the City of Chevak’s purview. He also said that there are an abundance of loose dogs in Chevak, and troopers are not yet certain who the dogs belong to. He said that they will be conducting more interviews with witnesses. Yancey would not comment on the alleged shots fired in the direction of Paniyak’s house.

In a phone call with KYUK, the neighbor who Paniyak said owns the dogs denied that they were his dogs and hung up. Paniyak said that she’s seen photos on Facebook of him with the dogs, and sees him with the dogs all the time.

“They all come out of his house, there's like three or four white, spotted pitbulls, and then there's two red-nose pitbulls,” Paniyak said.

Paniyak is asking for donations to help pay for an attorney. She plans to file a protective order and a civil lawsuit against the neighbor who she says owns the dogs that attacked Amaya. 

“I want him to pay for my daughter's treatment,” Paniyak said. “I want him to pay for the traumatic treatment that she's going to need. And I want those dogs put down first and foremost.”

Paniyak said that the attack on her 3-year-old daughter was only the most recent example of aggressive behavior by the same dogs.

“Last year, they tried to attack my daughter, the same daughter that's in the hospital right now. And then just four days ago, they tried to attack my 1-year-old, and this is all happening in my yard,” Paniyak said.

She said that she has also talked to other neighbors who have been chased or stalked by the same dogs. One of those neighbors told KYUK that their sibling had been chased by the dogs.

Whether the animals are put down will be up to the City of Chevak. City Administrator Dennis Jones said that there is a city ordinance dictating that any dog that bites a person has to be watched for 14 days to make sure it doesn’t have rabies. He did not say whether the dogs that attacked Amaya would be put down, but he said that the ordinance would be followed. 

Paniyak said that if the city does not put down the dogs that attacked her daughter, she will pursue legal action against the city as well.

Paniyak said that she and her daughter were headed home to Chevak on April 24 after Amaya is discharged from an Anchorage hospital. She said that she feels uneasy living next to neighbors who she says threatened her and her family.

“Yeah, I'm worried. I'm definitely worried, but I'm not gonna back down,” Paniyak said. “This is how they get people to shut up. I'm not going to shut up because this is my baby, and this was my baby's life.”

Paniyak said that as a single mother of four children, she will do whatever she has to do to protect herself and her family.