A psychiatrist who recently was on television touting the therapeutic effects of dogs, Doreen Sabalesky, M.D., '87, never thought she'd be under attack by a dog, fearing for her life.
But this was the situation she found herself in the morning of Jan. 20, 2006, as she was walking her two Scottish Deerhounds, Gray and Piper, and her Weimaraner, Miss Kassie, in her Braeswood neighborhood in Houston.
"As the kids (referring to her dogs) and I strolled down our block after our usual hour walk, a neighbor's large Rottweiler broke down his gate and charged to kill," she says. "I was knocked down by this Rotty that next grabbed my boy's neck. Into the ground, defenseless, with four large dogs going for the kill on top of me, fear was an understatement."
Fortunately for Dr. Sabalesky, Cheng Chi Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a concerned neighbor, happened to be driving down the street and sprang into action.
"Dr. Lee valiantly leaped from his car, fearing we were going to be killed, and heroically grabbed the Rotty's choke collar from behind and pulled him off with all his might so we could flee to safety into a neighbor's home," Dr. Sabalesky recalls.
Dr. Lee says he was just following his instincts when he came to Dr. Sabalesky's rescue as he was driving to work at the Medical School that morning.
"I saw in a flash a dog charging toward her. It happened pretty fast, in two to three seconds, bang, the dog went straight for Doreen and she screamed. Normally when you scream, a dog would stop – it didn't. Doreen fell to the ground, and there was a huge commotion when I arrived at the scene," he says.
Dr. Lee put himself at risk as he protected Dr. Sabalesky and her dogs.
"As I pulled the dog away, I realized it was very strong," he says. "Doreen got away, then I was left with the dog, and I wondered what I was going to do with this thing. It was ferocious and trying to bite me as well. I kept holding on to the chain, but I could only hold on for so long. Luckily another neighbor who was familiar with the dog came out and the dog's demeanor changed, and she took the dog."
Dr. Lee doesn't consider himself a hero.
"I just did something that a neighbor would do for another neighbor and something that someone would hopefully have done for me," he says.
Dr. Sabalesky says she can't thank Dr. Lee enough.
"Had it not been for him, we would have been dead," she says. As a result of the attack, Dr. Sabalesky suffered extensive bruising. Her dog Miss Kassie was the most severely injured, with 45 bites, including a hole torn in her flank and a rupture disc.
"Not only is Dr. Lee a dedicated researcher, devoting his life to science that will help people but a true unyielding humanitarian," she adds.
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