‘A reminder of your survival’: Temporary tattoos help boy heal from dog attack

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Brandon Wiggins will always have some remnant of the scars left from an April dog attack, but that doesn’t mean the 9-year-old is going to let the deep lines etched in his skin affect his self-esteem.

“Emotionally he is fine. He is fine with ours and our friends’ dogs, but he doesn’t like strange dogs,” said Brandon’s mother, Catarina Wiggins. “ I think it was the rest of the family that took it really hard, but his autism is a blessing right there.”

Catarina Wiggins is a vet technician who volunteers at For the Love of Dogs. She was with Brandon and her 12-year-old daughter at a picnic table at the Wilson County animal rescue when two Rottweilers attacked the young boy.

“Brandon was pulled out of my arms. I remember the first bite and thinking he’d need a tetanus shot, but the dogs didn’t stop,” she recalled. “As soon as I got the chance, I jumped on top of him, and the dogs bit the back of my neck and my arms, but I didn’t feel any pain. I guess it was the adrenaline.”

For Love of Dogs co-founder Della Fitz-Gerald and others attempted to intervene.

“I just kept screaming, ‘Jesus, make it stop,’” Catarina Wiggins recalled.

The dogs eventually were restrained and ambulances were sent to care for the mother and son. Brandon has had two surgeries and is preparing for a scar revision operation next month in Greenville, which should help him have more use of his arm.

“I don’t want him to feel like a victim,” she said. “He is a survivor plain and simple, and he loves his scars.”

With both Catarina Wiggins and her husband having numerous tattoos, the 9-year-old boy had often accompanied the couple to get new ink. And that comfort with tattoos has helped him see his scars in a new light.

“The scar on the back of his arm where they ripped out a pound of flesh is really long, and I had a Sharpie one day, so I turned it into a fish bone,” she said.

Brandon Wiggins fell in love with adorning the scars, and in January, an artist at Sacred Flame Tattooing & Body Piercing on Airport Boulevard helped, too. Heather Scott turned the scar on the back of his arm into King Kong climbing a skyscraper while the forearm scar was covered with a dragon.

“The dragon looked like one of his dad’s tattoos,” Scott said. “I had the line drawing for his dad’s tattoo, so I shrunk it down to fit and stenciled it out like I would a real tattoo. I drew over it with a Sharpie and shaded it, so he could have one just like his dad.”

Scott said she was amazed with the boy’s resilience and positive attitude.

“A scar is the body’s way of surviving, and this is no different from when an adult has a scar and gets a real tattoo over it,” Scott said. “Scar tissue forms because your body is healing, but the tissue is tougher than regular skin and is a reminder of your survival. Everyone has a scar and a story behind it, so no one should be ashamed of their scars.”

While King Kong and the dragon have faded from Brandon’s skin, Brandon now has tattoo markers in a variety of colors to draw his own.

“All he wants to do now is draw tattoos on himself and everyone else,” Catarina Wiggins said.

As for her own scars, the mom said she’s followed her son’s lead and learned to love the teeth marks on his arm.

“Everyone has forgiven and moved on,” she said. “We don’t want to live in anger. We just want to be at peace with everything.”

All accounts of the attack indicate it was unprovoked, but Brandon was raised around dogs.

“I never want other parents and children to go through what we did,” Catarina Wiggins said. “I want parents to not belittle the capabilities of dogs. It sets everyone, including the dogs, up for failure.”