All Marion Earley wanted to do was get her 82-pound golden retriever, Stone, into the car. But the dog bolted, and the retractable leash Earley was using wrapped around her finger and amputated the tip of it.
"I didn't realize the leash was wrapped around my finger until I felt the pain," said Earley, 53, of Havana. "I just dropped the lead and went inside. I tried to wash (the finger), but there wasn't anything to wash."
The cord sliced through her finger just above the last knuckle, stripping away the bone and flesh, said Earley, a social worker at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.
Earley said doctors were able to fold skin over the bone and reattach the fingernail.
But Earley is not the only person injured by a retractable leash.
Vicki Leonard works in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's clearinghouse, where product injury statistics are compiled. She said a search for dog leash injuries reported over the past four years produced about 35 documented cases of injuries caused by retractable leashes.
In addition to amputating fingers, statistics from the commission show the leashes can cause head lacerations and deep cuts in the arms, hands and legs.
An Internet search showed that at least four people who were injured by retractable leashes have filed lawsuits.
One of them was an Oregon woman who lost the tips of three fingers.
In another case, documented by the commission, an 8-year-old girl lost the sight in one eye when the leash retracted and the metal end struck her eye.
The injured included an 18-month-old boy who got severe rope burns around his neck after a dog bolted, and the retractable leash wrapped around his neck. The boy was pulled from his mother's arms and dragged along the ground.
In another instance, a 55-year-old woman was walking her dog when it ran after some pigeons. She grabbed the round nylon leash, and a portion of it wrapped around her thumb, severing it.
Earley was using a retractable leash she bought at Wal-Mart on Tennessee Street. The leash was made in China.
Jacquie Young, a spokeswoman at Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, said company officials were trying to determine the manufacturer of the leash.
Retractable leashes have either a broad web leash or a thin, round nylon cord. They allow dogs to roam away from the owner and can be retracted by a switch or button on the handle.
Dr. Alfredo A. Paredes Jr., a Tallahassee plastic surgeon who treated Earley, said the leashes with the thin nylon cord cause the worst injuries. He said he had several patients who were injured by the leashes.
"She's probably my second or third one in a year," Paredes said.
"These things are like little cutting cords," he said. "My guess is it's like a piano wire around the end of the digit."
Earley, who keeps 10 dogs on her two acres of land, said she couldn't believe how much damage the retractable lead caused.
But Dr. Larry Harper, a plastic surgeon who works with Paredes, said he was not surprised.
"It's like a little knife," Harper said. "Any small cord can cut your skin."
And Earley's attorney, Hal Lewis, of the Tallahassee law firm of Fonveille Lewis Foote & Messer, said his research shows the injuries are far more common than he thought. The firm specializes in personal-injury lawsuits.
Lewis and Earley said the leash had no warning labels about the dangers of its use in certain situations on the plastic that contained the leash or anywhere on the leash. Lewis said he had not decided whether to sue the manufacturer until he sees how well Earley recovers.
The Web site of FlexiUSA, a Cincinnati company and the nation's largest manufacturer of retractable leashes, lists several pages of cautions and warnings. Among them is the danger of amputation of a finger or fingers.
FlexiUSA leashes, which are sold at several locations in Tallahassee, also have warning labels that list the dangers of using the product. The company did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Earley, meanwhile, said she wants to warn people about the dangers of using any kind of retractable leash, especially ones with a thin, round cord.
"I want these off the market," she said. "This one had no warning on it at all."
Earley also said she was confronting another problem while she waits for her finger to heal.
She's apprehensive about walking her dogs -- with any kind of leash.
"I don't walk them at all now," she said. "I turn them out in the yard so they can run."
WALK THE DOG SAFELY
Here are some of the warnings FlexiUSA posts on its Web site (www.flexiusa.com):
-- Don't use the leash for disobedient or uncontrollable dogs.
-- Don't use the leash for dogs that exceed the specified weight.
-- Examine the leash before each use.
-- Don't allow the leash to become wrapped around hands, arms, legs or fingers; the leash can cut or amputate a finger.
-- If you lose control of your dog, drop the leash.
-- The leash, if retracted rapidly, can cause facial or eye injuries.
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Something like this happened to me when Nikko was about a year old. She was an excellent walker, never gave me any problems and one day, I thought the leash was "locked" apparently the "lock" mode didn't work too well. Nikko saw a cat and hauled butt for it. The leash came unlocked, the cord wrapped around my leg (shin, calve) and burned right through until finally, the leash was done retracting. I fell to the ground instantly, bleeding profusley (sp) and eventually collapsed, rushed to the hospital and woke up with a nasty looking leg.
Needless to say..I have a horrible scar and anytime I see those leashes...it sends chills down my spine.
Thanks for posting this Rhonda...people need to be more aware :o)
I can't believe people actually sued the manufacturer over this. People always looking for some one else to blame for their misfortune. How about taking some personal responsibility for your own action for a change. There are literally millions of products out there that can cause injury or even death when used improperly. It won’t be long before we’ll see a warning label on EVERYTHING we buy. This is ridiculous.
I used to get small lacerations from the normal nylon leash I walked Shilo with because she likes to bolt unexpectedly in pursuit of mice, cats, or whatever else moved. Now I wear gloves when handling her leash.
Same thing happened to me as DOGONEIT. I was walking my dog years ago and she wrapped herself around my legs and before I could get untangled she took off and I had burns on the back of my legs behing my knees.
I never use retractable leashes. They are not safe, and they also teach dogs to pull. I use nice, normal 6 foot leashes, and only walk dogs wearing nylon harnesses with an O ring in the front. I attach the leash to that in the case of problem dogs. That works perfectly for ALL dog breeds. I have used it that way for huge and tiny breeds.