'Lovely' boy fights for life after dog attack
KELLY DENNETT AND NEIL REID
A family pet that left little Shephard Mea fighting for his life used to roam the street terrorising neighbours and had been aggressive towards the child before yesterday's attack.
The incident happened at a Housing New Zealand property, and Housing Minister Nick Smith told the Sunday Star-Times last night officials would launch an inquiry as dogs were not routinely allowed at HNZ homes.
A neighbour also revealed it was the second time the dog had attacked the boy.
"The boy was really friendly, a lovely little guy. He'd talk to me when I hung out the washing," a neighbour said.
"The other day he had a few scratches on his face and he was telling my cousins they were from the dog."
The vicious attack also came just days after the boy's father Orlando Shepherd posted a picture of the dog, which he called a pitbull, on his Facebook page with the status line: "Mess wif me il eat u alive..."
Police, who said the boy was aged 4, and emergency services were called to the Housing NZ home in Beatty St, in the suburb of Otahuhu, shortly after 4pm. The boy was rushed to Middlemore Hospital with life-threatening injuries and last night was listed in a serious but stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit.
A large brown dog, identified as a pitbull, was taken from the residential address by animal control. An Auckland council spokeswoman said animal control had the dog but the dog would not be destroyed until animal control completed its investigations.
The dog was known to roam the streets, growling and barking and it was significantly bigger than the child, said one neighbour, who did not want to be named.
"When we got home this afternoon and saw the police we knew instantly it had something to do with the dog," she said.
"She said even though Shephard had scratches he seemed to like the dog and was often playing with it.
"The kid had been wandering around the backyard with it. The dog was pretty big compared to the child. I would get scared because every time I came home he was barking and growling."
Neighbours said Shephard's mother had moved out a while ago and it was just the father and some grandparents living at the house with the boy. "It's really sad - we said a family prayer for the boy this afternoon."
Pamela Purcell, who also lived on Beatty St, said the boy loved animals. The family had had puppies in the past but they either ran away or got taken away.
This dog was new and she felt afraid for her five cats because it seemed so big and vicious.
Rana Ghumkhor, another neighbour, saw the dog roaming a lot. "It's a pitbull. It's quite scary because it could have been me."
Housing Minister Nick Smith was not aware of the incident until contacted by the Star-Times last night. He confirmed Housing NZ had a policy only to allow dogs to live on its properties in special cases; specifically to aid tenants who had disabilities.
"We will be reviewing what has occurred in this particular tragedy to see whether appropriate policies have been followed," he said.
"Responsibility for dogs still though has to rest with the tenants. Any tragedy involving a boy of this age is dreadful, not just for the family but for the wider community.
"This tragedy is a harsh reminder that dogs are not always man's friend."
Dog breeder Carol Gunn, who visits schools in Tauranga to teach dog safety, said if the dog had been aggressive to the boy before it should have been put down. "There is no question... if that has happened then the dog has to be put down," Gunn said.
"There is no way that you would trust it ever again."
Describing the pitbull breed, she said "unfortunately when they attack, they won't release."
Gunn said she hoped the latest dog attack would reinforce to parents the need to ensure their dogs were under proper control around them.
That included the importance never to leave a child unattended near a dog.
"You just never know what can trigger an attack," she said.
Gunn added: "Some kids think all dogs are going to be the loveable kind of pet... and they will rush up to a dog.
"Some of the friendliest of dogs are intimidated because the child will want to hug them, and it can trigger a reaction from the dog itself. Some dogs are bred as fighting dogs and once they start it's very hard to get them off."
Six people are believed to have lost their lives following dog attacks in New Zealand; the last being 31-year-old Chloe Mathewson following an attack north of Auckland last year. Almost 12,000 New Zealanders require medical attention every year after being bitten by dogs.
Pit bulls, and pit bull crosses, are responsible for more than 12 per cent of all reported dog attacks in New Zealand.
The breed contributes an estimated 2.3 per cent of the country's licensed dog population.
DOG ATTACKS IN PAST YEAR
April 2014: 3-year-old boy attacked by a rottweiler at a Christchurch dog park went to hospital with bites to his legs. The dog was later put down.
March 2014: A Tauranga man was charged after a 3-year-old boy was hospitalised with facial injuries after a dog attacked him. The dog was impounded.
March 2014: 7-year-old Japanese girl Sakurako Uehara was hospitalised after four Staffordshire bull terrier-cross dogs in Murupara inflicted more than 100 bites over most of her body requiring reconstructive surgery. The dogs were put down.
November 2013: Mimi Sayid, 10, underwent surgery to repair wounds to her stomach and hands after a dog off its leash attacked her at an Auckland school.
July 2013: Charlie Pokai, 4, suffered head and lip wounds when a bull mastiff attacked him at a property he was visiting in Tauranga.
- Sunday Star Times