Dog Leash Dangers: Blindness, Amputations Blamed on Retractable Dog Leads

Dog leash

It was a shocking sight for a mother -- a piece of metal sticking out of her 12-year-old's eye.

That's what Joy Williams saw after her daughter Dereka was injured last year when a retractable dog leash broke and the metal clasp snapped her in the face.

"She was like, 'Mom, I can't see! I can't see!'" Williams told ABCNews.com.

The family is now suing Worldwise, Inc., the maker of the SlyDog retractable leash, and Dollar General, the store where they bought it, both to help pay for their daughter's medical expenses and highlight the danger of these types of dog leashes.

Horror stories of injuries, even amputations, caused by retractable dog leashes have circulated on dog owner boards and forums for years, leading some owners to stop using them.

The leashes typically feature a plastic handle with a locking mechanism that allows owners to control how far their dogs can roam. They're usually made from cord or ribbon-type material that has been blamed for severing fingers as well as burning or lacerating the skin of both dogs and humans who have the unfortunate misstep of getting tangled in them.

A Recall, but Too Late?

Worldwise recalled the SlyDog leash in September, nearly five months after Dereka's accident, saying the metal clasp was known to have bent or broken while in use. But the Williams' Dallas-based attorney, Stephen Drinnon, said the company should have done a better job designing the leash and notified consumers about the dangers of their products.

Injuries reported from the SlyDog leash include facial cuts, broken teeth, eye injuries and a broken collarbone, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's recall notice. The notice said there were about 223,000 units of the China-manufactured product, which was sold in Dollar General stores for about $5.

"I will never use another retractable leash," Derrick Williams, Dereka's father, told ABCNews.com

Dereka, now 13, was walking home from a park near her Arlington, Texas, home in April when her 25-pound pitbull puppy Diamond pulled on the leash, snapping it. It was the first time she had used the leash.

"It hurt," Dereka said. "I didn't know what happened at first."

She immediately lost vision in that eye and was rushed to the emergency room, where she underwent the first of three surgeries to repair the damage. The vision in her left eye is now "better," Derrick Williams said, but she will likely have permanent damage.

A Slow Recovery

After missing the rest of her sixth-grade year, Dereka is seeing a retinal specialist and wears bi-focals. She faces more possible surgeries.

"Now when I play sports I have to wear this protection shield so nothing else hits me in the eye," she said, adding that she plays volleyball and basketball and runs track.

While her grades were high enough to pass her into the seventh grade despite her missed classes, Dereka missed out on the opportunity to try for acceptance into advanced placement courses.

"She was really an outgoing girl. Now she doesn't want to be the freak, if you know what I mean," Drinnon said.

The Williamses are seeking unspecified damages from the two companies.

"They figured a lawsuit was the proper thing to do to hold the company responsible," Drinnon said.

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