IT was an afternoon out collecting chestnuts with family and friends that turned to terror when two rampant English bull terriers appeared out of nowhere.
Claire Booth, a mother of three, said it was hard to express just how quickly everything changed when the dogs ran out of woods in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, last September and bounded towards the group of mums and children, some of who were in prams.
It was her six-year-old boy Ryan who was knocked to the floor by one of the animals while another began to maul the boy as he was pinned to the ground.
She said: “It was such a horrific, terrifying experience. It thought they were killing my son and I was screaming, I was hysterical.
“I can’t explain how quickly it happened, we looked up and the dogs were there. It scary how such a lovely day just turned so quickly.”
The dogs’ owner appeared and managed to free the dogs from Ryan, who was left with injuries all over his body and a large chunk torn from his left ear.
It was an experience that was to leave the whole family profoundly shaken and Ryan coming to terms with his disfigurement.
Mrs Booth has now paid tribute to the charity Changing Faces which has helped them deal not only with the trauma of that day but also how to live with such an injury in a society obsessed with image and beauty.
She said the family could not have managed without the kind, helpful words of the organisation which was set up 24 years ago by James Partridge, who was badly burned in a car fire, to give better emotional support to those living with a facial disfigurement.
Mrs Booth, 39, said: “After the bandages came off we could see what Ryan’s ear looked like. I was very concerned at that point that we needed to speak to someone, a psychologist perhaps, on how the trauma could impact on his life because it was clear he was going to be disfigured.
“I was worried how he would deal with people stopping and looking and asking him what had happened. Obviously that is not a nice thing to go through, particularly as a child.
“It was then that one of the senior nurses at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children mentioned Changing Faces.”
Mrs Booth said she received “amazing advice” from the charity’s Rebecca Mitchell, a practitioner who works with individuals and families to help them come to terms with a disfigurement.
Mrs Booth said: “We learned a lot of techniques on how to deal with things, such as if Ryan felt someone staring at him. He also learned how to deflect the subject if he was getting fed up speaking about it. I think he can do all these things really well now.
“Its really amazing how brave Ryan has been through the thing. Its unbelievable really, He has had this attitude of ‘this is me, this is how it is going to be.”
He is now healing well and could have plastic surgery in the future if he chooses to. He is now building his confidence up to back to where it was before the attack but a “huge” fear of dogs has now developed.
Mrs Booth said her own contact with the charity had allowed her to “vent” over the attack and share her feelings about what had happened on that terrible day.
“I felt very vulnerable about the attack and I was a bit scared to do things afterwards. To have someone telling you that what you are going through is normal is very reassuring.
“I felt I could have coped better if it had been myself that was attacked, rather than my child.
“As well as really helping Ryan, Rebecca gave me encouragement and strength to overcome a lot of things but it will take me a while to get over in as it was so violent and unprovoked.
“The hospital staff are excellent at dealing with the wounds, the surgery and the medical care. But you need emotional support too, and that is where this charity has been amazing for us. We couldn’t have gone through this without them.”
James Partridge, the chief executive of Changing Faces, said he set up the charity after feeling there was “a lot missing” in the care of those with a disfigurement,
He said: “We have been developing and evolving since then what we can offer to children like Ryan and their families and help make a serious difference to their lives.
“Any kinds of facial condition carries psychological and social challenges. Our campaign is for face equality. Like race equality it will take a long time to bring about and we are probably about 30 years behind the civil rights campaign.
“We have come a long but we are still in the foothills. The services we believe should be available are not and public attitudes and institutional attitudes to disfigurement are still way behind what they should be. But we have made a start.”