A 15-month-old boy was savaged by a pitbull as he wandered into the dog's yard to play with a Christmas present he had received hours earlier.
The vicious Christmas Day mauling of Ozyris Beeching - whose family say he is lucky to be alive - came after the local council had been warned several times about the dog's temperament, his distraught mother told the Herald yesterday.
Tracy Beeching said her family were getting ready to drive a few blocks across Edgecumbe in the Bay of Plenty for a Christmas breakfast with her brother's family when little Ozyris wandered next door with his new toy lawnmower.
He entered the front yard shortly before 10.30am and came within reach of the tethered pitbull, which attacked the infant, biting him on his face and stomach.
The dog's 39-year-old owner ran after the dog and was bitten on the arm as he tried to intervene.
A neighbour living across the street told how he thought the dog was playing with the boy until he realised what was happening.
"We thought the dog was just playing ... and the next minute you just saw the bloody dog pick the baby up and toss it in the air," he said.
"It was terrible ... I couldn't get over there and help because I'm on crutches."
A visiting family member of the owner said she was wrapping presents in the house with her little brother when she heard the owner yelling outside.
"I heard him going 'no, no, no', and speaking with a rough tone, and I went outside to see him holding the dog, and the baby was only about a metre away," she said.
"I grabbed the baby, brought him into my car and just started screaming, 'Whose is this baby, whose is this baby?'."
She said Ozyris was covered in blood and bleeding profusely, with a gaping wound above one eye.
She tried to phone an ambulance while calming the boy but had to ask a neighbour take her phone.
Ms Beeching said the tragedy unfolded in a matter of minutes.
"He was just inside and then I spun around and said, 'Where's my baby?' He wasn't in his sandpit, and then my neighbour came running over saying my son had been attacked," she said.
"I knew straight away what had happened. I ran over and heard him screaming, she had him in the car ... I grabbed him and we went straight to town."
Her son was left "ripped up" after the attack, she said.
He was rushed to Whakatane Hospital, where he received several stitches to his face.
Patches of dried blood and bite marks across his stomach were still visible yesterday afternoon.
The incident sparked a tense confrontation between the two neighbouring families - one person reportedly brandishing a knife - and emotions were still running high as family members shouted abuse over the fence at each other when the Herald arrived.
Both families said an attempt was made to immediately kill the dog, which had been brought inside.
A relative of the owner said: "I think they wanted to kill the dog there and then, which was understandable, but they didn't because it would have made it all so much more horrific."
Ms Beeching said one pitbull owned by the neighbours had already been ordered to be destroyed for aggressive behaviour.
The dog responsible for yesterday's attack - which had also been complained about several times for barking and rushing at neighbours and posties - was also now likely to be put down.
"We've rung about it so many times now. I wanted that dog put down months ago," Ms Beeching said.
"We have to cross the road and check the yard every time we walk down the street, and each time I've said, 'Oh my God, that dog's going to get someone one day.' I just wasn't expecting it would be my son."
The dog owner's partner, who declined to give her name for fear of retaliation, admitted the family were still paying council fines from previous attacks.
She was angrily ordered off Ms Beeching's property as she tried to check on the baby during the Herald's visit. "I'm just so glad the baby's all right," the woman said said later.
She accepted the likely fate of her partner's dog. "He just has to be put down."
The dog's owner was being interviewed in hospital by police yesterday but it could not be ascertained whether he will face charges.
Whakatane District Council could also not be reached for comment.