Savaged girl fights for life

Last updated 23:09 04/03/2014
Murupara dog attack site
MARK TAYLOR/ Fairfax NZ

PROPERTY: The attack happened at a Murupara house.

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Sakurako Uehara, 7, who was attacked by four dogs in Murupara on Monday afternoon, March 3
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INJURED: Sakurako Uehara, 7, was attacked by four dogs in Murupara.

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Police investigating the mauling of a girl by four dogs say it is too early to know whether charges will be laid. 

Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty community of Murupara is rallying around the family. 

The Japanese girl, 7, remained in a critical condition this evening.

At 5.30pm today Auckland's Middlemore Hospital was listing the condition of the child as "critical but stable" and added they did not expect a change for several days.

The child, named as Sakurako Uehara, had been playing in the yard of a property owned by friends of the family when she was attacked by four dogs belonging to the property owner, police said yesterday.

Whakatane District Council mayor Tony Bonne said it was a very unfortunate incident and little could be done until the investigation was completed.

‘‘There isn’t much more we can do apart from rally around the family,’’ he said.

Police today confirmed the dogs were Staffordshire bull terrier crosses.

The girl suffered life-threatening facial injuries in the attack, and was taken to Murupara Medical Centre, St John Ambulance communications team manager Norm Ngatai said.

She was airlifted to Rotorua Hospital about 1.30pm yesterday in a critical condition and was taken to Middlemore Hospital last night. BayTrust Rescue Helicopter pilot Art Kowalski said a specialist team had travelled to Rotorua to transport her to Auckland.

The dogs were registered and micro-chipped family pets, police said. They were secure on the owners’ semi-rural property and there were adults on the property at the time of the attack.

While there was no legal requirement for the dogs to be seized after the attack, police said the owner - a friend of the girl’s family - immediately took steps to have them put down by a vet.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she is getting advice on the dog issue.

“It is horrific for the girl and for the whole community,” she said.

The solution was not as simple as banning particular dog breeds, she said.

“I would want to look into the details.”

She wanted a more detailed response from officials.

“I am keen to protect children in this area,” she added.

The girl had just moved to New Zealand from Japan with her parents at the start of the year, and she did not appear to speak English, Kowalski said.

"My understanding is that they... moved here at the beginning of the year. Her father came with us and was translating back and forward between her and our paramedic."

The girl’s injuries were "extensive", and affected about 90 per cent of her face, he said. She also suffered puncture wounds to both arms, legs and hips.

Bay of Plenty police communications spokeswoman Kim Perks said police were informed of the attack after 2pm. All four dogs were put down by a vet, and a police investigation was under way.

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Senior Sergeant Brendon Keenan said the owner of the dogs had been "very supportive of this very distressful situation’’.

No-one else had been in danger, he said. The girl had been a pupil at a Murupara school for the last month. Pem Bird, principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau, said she spoke no English but had settled well at the school.

Her parents planned to move permanently to Murupara. They were about to return to Japan to sort out their residency.

Murupara is ready to support the family, two of its community leaders say.

The family had only been in the Bay of Plenty town for six weeks, community board chairperson Jacob Te Kurapa said.

"What matters most ... is for the speedy recovery of the girl. The community will rally behind and support them," Mr Te Kurapa said.

This could include seeking donations for medical treatment, he said.

He also knew the owners of the dogs and said they were responsible owners, but said there was a problem with roaming dogs in the town.

Following the attack Te Kurapa had received a number of complaints about roaming dogs in Murupara, and he said it had opened a wound as people thought back to when dogs in the street attacked local woman Virginia Ohlson in 2007.

Ohlson, a 56-year-old mother of one, was fatally injured when two dogs, a pitbull and staffordshire-cross, attacked her as she walked along Pine Drive in the town.

Te Kurapa said people wanted justice and vengeance and they were worried the latest attack was similar to the one in 2007. Feedback from the calls suggested people wanted better dog control laws.

Whakatane District Council impounded 700 dogs roaming around the region in 2013, Bonne said, and he did not think it was a problem isolated to Murupara. 

‘‘The council operate on a nuisance bias for roaming dogs." 

‘‘We do have a dog control person in Murupara who responds to complaints, but we don’t have a person patrolling the streets all the time,’’ he said. 

Bonne told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday morning that some dog breeds should be banned.

"I believe there’s some dogs out there that have got that have got that fighting technique streak in them and shouldn’t be around."

The Government had considered a ban in the past but had decided against it, he said.

Bonne said like most communities, his had problems with unregistered dogs. But the dogs in yesterday’s attack were registered and microchipped.

Whakatane district councillor for the Galatea-Murupara Ward, Alison Silcock, said she understood the owners were responsible.

However, she said the attack was "horrifying" for the local community.

"It’s really a great concern to us as a community that this poor child has fatal injuries, or any injuries from a dog for that matter," Silcock said.

Fairfax Media approached the house where it was believed the dog attack took place but was told by a person there to leave the property.

- Waikato Times

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