An 8-year-old boy left with "half his face hanging off" after a pitbull attack told his crying mother he was grateful it was him and not his baby brother or sister.
AJ Maninoa spoke yesterday of the attack in the hope it might stop other children from getting too close to dogs they don't know well.
The West Auckland boy said he was with his mother, Liga Misa, 2-year-old half-sister Tali and 18-month-old half-brother Juergen at a friend's place in Hindmarsh St, Henderson, when the attack happened on Monday afternoon.
Speaking from the Kidz First Hospital at Middlemore, AJ said he had just finished eating some cake and was going to check on Juergen when he saw the pitbull, which was chained up in the garage.
"I went to touch the dog and I saw the teeth and all of a sudden it bit me and I screamed."
As the dog held on to the side of AJ's face - its teeth piercing the skin on his cheek - the terrified little boy fought back.
"It wouldn't let go so I punched it on the side of its face."
The dog released its grip on AJ's cheek and he ran - clutching a hand to his bleeding face - inside to his mother, who screamed when she saw his injuries.
It was on the way to hospital that AJ tried to offer reassurance.
"His Mum was crying," said AJ's father, Andy Maninoa. "He said to her, 'Mum, don't worry, it's lucky it was me and not my little brother or sister, otherwise the dog would have had them for lunch because they are really little."
AJ - short for Andy Junior - spent three hours in surgery, where surgeons worked to repair a tear that narrowly missed his eye and a nerve that controls his upper lip.
He now has more than 100 stitches. Although he's being brave, AJ said: "I'm still scared and I keep on thinking about it."
His message to other children is simple: "Don't go near strange dogs."
Mr Maninoa, who was at work when the attack happened, arrived at hospital expecting to see a few bite marks. He was shocked by the extent of the injury.
"I felt it in my heart," he said, tears rolling down his cheeks. "When I first walked into the room I knew he was brave. He said to me, 'Dad look at my face."'
Mr Maninoa said AJ, who used to spend time in front of a mirror working on his mohawk, was worried about the permanent scars, and kids at school laughing at him.
"We told him, 'You just tell them you are a strong man - you fought with the dog."
Mr Maninoa's partner, Kelly-Ann Julian, said AJ was a wonderful young boy, never once crying despite his horrific injuries.
"It was shocking to see how half his face was just hanging there."
The pitbull, which was destroyed after the attack, was known as an aggressive dog and had a history of rushing at people.
Waitakere City Council animal welfare manager Neil Wells said the council had warned the owners just days before the attack to keep the dog restrained and under control.
An investigation is under way to determine whether they will face charges.By Elizabeth Binning Email Elizabeth