Description: Rosalie Mastaler was pushed into the world of disabilities when her son was bitten by his father's K9 police dog. Tune in for the story of courage and how the family creates good and recognizes miracles from this loss.
Rosalie Mastaler learned about Disability Advocacy when her husband's police dog bit her son, Hunter, on February 8, 2015. Despite the trauma, Rosalie and Hunter chose to accept his disability and continue on with life. Rosalie learned that she couldn't change her son's choice to accept his disability, but she could give him tools and opportunities to help him. Hunter eventually accepted his disability and learned that happiness is a choice and that resilience is a journey. Rosalie was inspired by Hunter's ability to keep getting up and pushing forward, no matter how difficult or challenging the journey was.
Listen in to our discussion about:
1. How did a police dog bite Hunter and what were the rules around those dogs?
2. How did Rosalie and her husband cope with the guilt and the trauma of the situation?
3. How did Hunter's journey of resilience help shape Rosalie's perspective on life?
Visit Rosalie Mastaler’s Socials:
00:00:19 Lori: Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. On this show, we share stories. We share stories of big adventures, stories of big struggles, stories that allow us to share our experiences and to learn from each other. And today's guest, Rosalie Mastaler, was pushed into the world of disabilities when her oldest son was attacked by a police canine and he lost the lower part of his left leg. She and her family now focus on being advocates for those with disabilities and helping people to keep hope was a big thing.
00:00:55 Lori: When Hunter, this is her son, became an amputee at just four years old, his parents had to negotiate a host of feelings, including guilt and grief and worry for how their son was going to adapt. The loss of his lower leg altered their lives and how they cared for him, of course. But Rosalie and Michael, his dad, soon realized that the most powerful tool that they could offer Hunter was resilience. I'm really interested about this resilience topic because it's so big for all of us. So stay tuned for their story and a peek at the Mastaler Party of Five.
00:00:43 Lori: Stories are our lives and language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I'm Lori Lee, and I'm excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you the listener ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Story power serves you best when you know how to use it.
00:02:25 Lori: Mastaler Party of Five is the social media presence of the Mastaler family and their story. In 2015, Michael, that's the dad in this story, his police dog attacked Hunter, their four year old son. And the bite was so severe that they were forced to amputate his left leg below the knee. Seeing their names and their pictures in the news articles and the stories across the world was mortifying. And all they wanted was privacy to recover in peace.
00:02:54 Lori: As Hunter began to heal and adapt, they felt inspired to share their journey of hope in finding joy. They knew they were more than a tragedy. And so today, we get to talk with Mama Mastaler herself. Rosalie, welcome to the Love Your Story podcast.
00:03:12 Rosalie: Hi, Lori. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
00:03:15 Lori: Absolutely. Let's jump right in with your story. Take us to what happened.
00:03:24 Rosalie: We're actually about to, I say celebrate the 8th anniversary of that day. We call it Hunter’s, Alive Day. It's almost like another birthday for him. So on February 8, 2015, I get a phone call from my husband saying that his police dog bit Hunter. And Hunter was four years old at the time like you had said. And I'm like, all right, I was out running a quick errand. And I'm like, okay, tell me what hospital. I need to meet you guys at.
00:03:57 Rosalie: He was very calm. But I mean he had been a police officer for over a decade by then. He knew how to handle these situations. And his calmness definitely kept me calm but it also didn't give me any inclination of how severe the situation was.
00:04:14 Lori: Well, tell me really quick. How were Hunter and the police dog interacting? What prompted it?
00:04:22 Rosalie: We don't know. There's a lot of misconceptions with police dogs. I think this is a good place to start because there are some police dogs that are just used to sniff things, whether it's drugs or bombs. Those could be very nice dogs like bloodhounds. You can go up to them and pet them and they're not going to care. But then you also have dogs that are trained to bite and train to go after that suspect and help the police officer contain them and take them down.
00:04:53 Rosalie: And the police dog that my husband had was one of those. He was trained to be a bite dog. And those dogs have tons of rules around them. They don't typically like to take them out to community events just because there's a lot of rifts with it as it being in our home, the family does not interact with it. It is not a family dog. It is not a pet. It was my husband's partner. And if he wasn't at work with him in his police unit training, then he was at home locked up in his kennel.
00:05:25 Rosalie: Now to give some backstory of how it happened was my husband had been working at a bootcamp that weekend and it's with troubled teens in his city. So I'm sure you can imagine how taxing that was on him for that weekend. It's only him and a few other officers that run it. And it's the very first weekend and he had been gone all weekend. And so that meant Django hadn't been with his partner all weekend.
00:05:51 Rosalie: We can only assume how Django was feeling when Michael came home and let him out. Probably very much wanted to be let out of his cage. So Michael came home, let him out of his cage. I told him, I'm running a quick errand. I'm taking my younger son, who was about 18 months at the time. He said, I'm going to leave Hunter here with you. Because Hunter, he was over four and a half, very capable of turning on the TV and just sitting there and doing his own thing. He was very, very independent.
00:06:20 Rosalie: Michael went up to take a shower. Because like I said, he'd been gone at a camp all weekend. And Hunter did not realize that I had left. And so he went looking for me. And it was very, very odd that he went looking in the backyard because we don't use our backyard. It was a smaller backyard. We rarely even played out there. I rarely went out there. But for some reason, he went looking in the backyard and Django was out there.
00:06:46 Rosalie: No one was around. No one knows how it happened. He tries to describe the event sometimes. But all I can assume is that he looked out the door and Django saw him. And Django's queue is that door opens and he makes his journey from that back door to the police unit, which is through the house to the garage.
00:07:08 Rosalie: Whenever that happened, me and the kids always stood back. We kept our distance. And he knew it was just a beeline to the car. That's how he was trained. So my guess is he opened the door. Django saw the door open, tried to go inside. And Hunter put out his leg to put some distance between them and Django put down on his leg.
00:07:28 Lori: Were there any repercussions for Django?
00:07:30 Rosalie: No, there were not. There was talk of them and yeah, there were not.
00:07:36 Lori: Okay, so go on with your story. I sidetracked you there.
00:07:40 Rosalie: No, you're totally fine because that's usually a very common question. And usually, people wonder, what did happen with him? He went to the previous owner, the previous handler. He was out of our lives pretty much instantly. There are zero bitter feelings towards him. He's a dog.
00:07:56 Lori: He did what he was trained to do.
00:07:58 Rosalie: And animals are animals. And we still love them. And people often wonder too, does Hunter still like dogs? He loves them. He loves them. He will pet them.
00:08:05 Lori: Oh, good.
00:08:06 Rosalie: Yeah. Anyways, so I get the phone call. And I just thought, oh, it was probably a little snap. He probably just needs stitches. Tell me where I'm going to the hospital. So a few phone calls went back and forth. Michael stayed very calm. And finally, we get to a phone call where I'm hearing people talking in the background. And I'm like, who is in the background? And he said, It's the paramedics.
00:08:30 Rosalie: And that's when I'm like, why are there paramedics at our house? What is going on? And he said, Rosalie, just get home as soon as you can. And I'm like, I want to know what's going on. And he had to hang up the phone because I think he's trying to coordinate everything, calls me back, and I hear him talking to the paramedic. And he said, where are you landing the bird? And I knew they were bringing in a helicopter for him.
00:08:56 Rosalie: And that's when I lost it. That's when I knew my son's life is in danger. I just need to get to him as soon as possible. Luckily, I was not the one driving. I happened to be with Michael's younger brother. He ran the errand with me. So he was driving and he drove us to the airport where the helicopter was. And I got there just in time for them to take off and take me and Hunter to the hospital.
00:09:20 Lori: Wow. I can only imagine.
00:09:22 Rosalie: Yeah.
00:09:22 Lori: So what happened from there?
00:09:24 Rosalie: It was a very quick 12-minute ride to the hospital. There were a lot of very sincere and some very specific moments from that drive to the hospital, to the airport, and then lifting us up to the hospital. The moment I got to Michael and he met me at the truck before we got to Hunter. And that interaction with him will stay with me for the rest of my life because he broke down.
00:09:56 Rosalie: And Michael, I can count on one hand how many times I've seen him crying. And we're high school sweethearts. We have known each other for many, many years. And it was a look on his face that I had never, ever seen before. And it was just guilt and pain and just so many words that I can't even fully describe how he looked. And the first thing he said to me is, it's all my fault.
00:10:21 Rosalie: And I felt so bad for him because nobody wants that guilt placed on their shoulders. And I immediately told him without any hesitation, I will never blame you for this. And I felt that so strongly and I still feel that. And there's never been a moment of blame. And we had a very brief moment together, very intimate. And then I got to Hunter right away. They got us on the helicopter. We lifted up. I was just trying my best to stay calm and to breathe.
00:10:52 Rosalie: And as we lifted up, there was this big, not necessarily mountains, but there's a small mountain range from where the airport was to get us to the children's hospital because there was not one in our area. And it's just very clear. There's not really a city. And the sun was setting. You can see, through the clouds, the sun and the mountains. And I just remember looking out the window and looking at the colors in the sky.
00:11:20 Rosalie: And I just knew that I was seeing God. And I just cried out to him. I said, please, I see you. I know that this is you. Please, protect my little boy. And I knew that He would. I knew that He would. I didn't know what that meant, but I just knew that He would protect him. And that moment of faith, I was able to hold on to that in the very beginning and to just hold on to it throughout the whole journey of everything.
00:11:49 Lori: So how was Hunter doing?
00:11:51 Rosalie: By the time I got to him, he was pretty sedated, so very quiet. I don't think he even really noticed if I was there. So yes, because I think they shot him up with morphine pretty quick when they got to him. So by the time I got to him, he’s just very calm. I don't even remember him saying anything to me.
00:12:08 Lori: So how long did it take before you knew you were going to have to have the leg amputated? And was all that decided pretty quickly?
00:12:15 Rosalie: No. So we get there and they rush him in right away. I knew they were going to get him into surgery, and they had me signed the consent form. And at this point, I was there by myself because Michael couldn't get in the helicopter with us. And a lot of it was a blur. And I just remember them reading out these things, okay, we're going to try and do this and this and this and this. And then at the very end of the consent form, it said, and if we have to, we will amputate his leg.
00:12:42 Rosalie: That's all I remember. I almost passed out. They caught me, sat me down in a chair. I scribbled my name and I could not fathom it. I could not imagine my child losing a limb. So they got him into surgery. They tried everything they could to repair everything. But they came out and they said, we've done everything we can. But we don't know if the blood flow is going to return through those veins. And what happens with small pediatric bodies when there's a rupture and a wound like that is there's an elasticity to the veins that closes them up pretty quick so they don't bleed out.
00:13:22 Rosalie: So it saved his life, but he lost his leg because of it. So it took about three days. And on February 11, his foot was just turning black and blue because there was no blood flow. And on February 11 is when they made the call, this is what we have to do, or else he's going to lose more of his leg, or there's going to be infection. And it's just going to get worse. And they amputated it that day.
00:13:45 Lori: Wow. So how did you and Michael do that day?
00:13:48 Rosalie: So that day, I think it was a miracle that we survived that day. I remember the day before and the days leading up to it, all I wanted to do was just cry nonstop. Just so many emotions. Whenever anyone talked to me, I just felt I just wanted to cry and cry and cry as my son lay in the hospital bed. We didn't know what was going to happen. It never pointed to him keeping his leg, but I still wanted to have faith that he would.
00:14:21 Rosalie: And so it was so many torn feelings and emotions of, I want this miracle, but I don't think it's going to happen. So the night before, I just remember being so upset thinking, how did this happen? We knew that it was going to happen that day. In the morning, Michael came in because I would stay the night at the hospital with him. So he came in that morning and we just sat there by Hunter's bed, and I just cried out to Michael.
00:14:51 Rosalie: And I'm like, this just isn't fair. It's not fair for him. I just don't understand. And Michael so calmly, and it just seemed like he was so empowered by faith, said to me, this is Heavenly Father's way of protecting him. And we went through all of the things that could have happened. He could have been bitten on different parts of his body. He could have died. He could have bled out. He could have lost more than just the bottom of his leg. We thought of all of our blessings and how he's still alive. And that was it. We just went into it with that faith.
00:14:35 Lori: That's beautiful. Yeah. So let me ask this then as a comparison. What was the hardest part of this for you and then what was the most beautiful part of it for you?
00:15:45 Rosalie: The part initially, the trauma wise? Is that what you're referring to?
00:15:51 Lori: Whatever you went.
00:15:52 Rosalie: Whatever it went. Okay.
00:15:54 Lori: The whole experience. You talked about being able to purposefully transition into a space of gratitude and restructuring the story so that it was supportive of you, which is such a fabulous resilient skill. So you showed that right off the bat. And in doing so, obviously, with these kinds of events, with the hard stuff in our lives, there's always things that we learn and get things out of it. And so what is the thing that has been the best for you? And then what was the low point as well? Just so we have this comparison.
00:16:27 Rosalie: Yeah, so I'll start with the low point. So we can get to the happier part. I think the hardest thing was watching him struggle and realizing...