A dog-loving toddler has been left scarred after an unleashed mastiff attacked him when he tried to give it a hug.
Now the family fear the gang-connected owner may seek retribution if the dog is put down.
Two-and-a-half-year old Liam, from Lower Hutt, has stitches and is on antibiotics after the dog rounded on him, taking several bites near his eyes, after he tried to cuddle it while in Lower Hutt's Avalon Park yesterday morning.
"My little boy loves dogs," mother Angie said. "He wasn't hitting the dog or pulling his tail or tormenting it."
Liam had been riding his bike about 15 metres away, when he hopped off to play with the dog, which was "two or three times" his size.
He hugged it for several seconds but, as his mother was telling him to leave the dog alone, it "did a flip in the air and landed on top of him", before mauling him for several seconds.
"You never for a second think what's going to happen is going to happen. You assume [people take their dogs to the park] because they think their dog is lovely."
Avalon Park is a designated dog exercise area and, while dogs are allowed off leashes, they must be supervised at all times.
Angie was most upset that the owner, who was wearing a Mongrel Mob patch, did not appear to be in sight of the dog and did not apologise or check to see if Liam was all right after the attack.
"Surely a half-decent person would have come over to see what happened. He could be dead right now and this person wouldn't know."
Liam "just screamed and cried" after the attack, before being taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Last night he was groggy, after being put under general anaesthetic, but recovering – with jelly- tip icecream to help him.
Lower Hutt constable Glenn Connell said the car in which the owner, the dog and two other people left was known to police. "It's quite a seedy one – it's got links to gangs."
A friend who witnessed the attack has been asked to identify the dog on Monday, after a suspect was tracked down by Hutt City Council but denied being at the park.
Council spokesman Scott Dennison said he was unsure whether or not police would be present on the identification trip. However, Mr Connell said police would be liaising and available "as a matter of security, especially [with] its links to gangs".
Angie hoped the dog – along with any others owned by the same person – would be assessed and destroyed if dangerous.
Mr Connell said he expected the owner would be charged and the dog may be put down or flagged as dangerous.
- The Dominion Post