Animal lover, former vegetarian, beloved local folkie, and all-around sweetheart Magda Hiller has endured a rough six months. Life had been good since Hiller split two years ago from her Hollywood haunts to Orange City, a sleepy burg north of Orlando. She still makes trips down here to visit old friends and perform; she did both the weekend of January 12-13, when she returned to Hollywood for the Calliope Festival.
After she'd finished festing that Sunday afternoon, Hiller, a friend, and their two dogs were stretching their collective legs before making the four-and-a-half hour drive back north. As they walked in the area of Sheridan Street and North 25th Avenue, they passed a yard full of barking dogs. A pit-bull terrier, Hiller recalls, put its paws up on the chain-link fence.
"And I didn't think twice," she continues by phone from her Central Florida digs. "You never think they're gonna come over the fence, you know? And it came over the fence. That thing jumped over the fence. I was like, 'Holy crap !' It was horrible." She pauses as an audible shiver fills the receiver.
Magda Hiller and Frank Ward
The Bamboo Room, 25 S "J" St., Lake Worth
8 p.m. Tuesday, June 18. Call 561-585-2583.
"It flew up into my face and just attached to my lip. Those dogs normally don't let go, so it fell off with part of my lip in its mouth."
Within a day, Hiller was under a reconstructive scalpel, though it took "four hours to find a plastic surgeon who didn't just do boobs," she says.
The day after her surgery, Hiller says, "I was just crying. It was un-fucking-believable pain." Now, after a half-year of healing, "It feels like there's a burning, like someone rubbed a habanero pepper on there."
The operation restored her lower lip, and though vanity tells her it looks slightly smaller, she's almost as good as new. Physically, that is. Mentally, she says she's undoubtedly suffering from canine-induced post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"A lot of times, I just think about getting in bed and curling up. My brain state is definitely altered. Now I'm scared of dogs."
Hiller used to love walking her dogs. Now she becomes fearful when she hears barks coming from yards.
"I don't know if it'll ever wear off. You know they can sense fear, and I know what they're capable of."
Even though police were on the scene of her January attack immediately and impounded the dog, the owner only had to pay $300 to secure its return. Hiller's attorney is suing the owner's insurance company. When Hiller had to return to court in Hollywood in April, she witnessed the system at work -- and not in her favor.
"The owner wasn't fined at all," admits Hollywood City Attorney Daniel Abbott, who says the city tried to use an ordinance demonstrating prior knowledge of a dog's dangerous behavior. The owner wasn't even ordered to destroy the dog. "The judge wanted the case proved beyond a reasonable doubt," Abbott explains. "We prosecuted the case vigorously, but the judge didn't find [the owner] guilty. We disagree with the judge's decision, but there's nothing you can do in a criminal case. You can't appeal a not-guilty verdict."
Abbott says Hiller may have better luck pursuing her civil suit. "It was her only recourse anyway," he says, "unless she was going to get some peace of mind from the owner being punished."
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"The owner should be fined," counters Hiller, who contends that the City of Hollywood dropped the ball. A recent update to her Web page (www.magdahiller.com) asserts that "the Assistant City Prosecutor filed the wrong statute -- yes folks, this is apparently the case. I also believe that the presiding judge granted this ruling as a lesson to the Assistant City Prosecutor. Oh, lucky me -- not. C'est la vie and onward ho!"
"People who have these dogs... it's like a gun," she tells Bandwidth. "Somebody's got to do something about pit pulls. There should be a license to own a dog that people are raising to be attackers. What if that dog had escaped and killed a child, which it totally could have?"
In the meantime, Hiller has immersed herself in housework, yard work, and voice-over work to take her mind off the incident. She's ready to get past it and hopes performing will help her get her drive back. When she sings, she says, she occasionally stumbles over the letter v. But she's not dwelling on it.
"You can look at it so many ways. I wasn't killed. My face wasn't ripped off. So for that, I am extremely lucky."