A ROTORUA family is devastated after their dog, a treasured member of their family, was mauled to death by an American pitbull.

The attack comes as Rotorua Lakes Council takes a tough stance on dogs classified as "dangerous" or "menacing" in the district, with an official saying they will be following the letter of the law and will look to prosecute any dog owner who fails in their ownership responsibilities.

The Cunliffe family's dog Pepsi, an almost 11-year-old Australian terrier, was killed in Springfield on Thursday when a woman visiting a nearby house let her dog off to relieve itself.

The American pitbull ran through a hole in a wire fence, jumped another fence into the Cunliffe's property, and attacked Pepsi, killing him.

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The pitbull's owner called the police, who then called the council's animal control team.

Unfortunately, Pepsi was already dead when they arrived.

Bernadette Cunliffe told the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday little Pepsi would have fought to the end and she hated to think what their dog would have gone through in the last moments of his life.

She said she and husband Gareth, both school teachers, were at work and her boys at school when the attack happened.

She said their dog's death was a tragedy, especially for her two boys, Kelvin, 13, and Richard, 11, who had grown up with Pepsi.

"Pepsi was just running around in the backyard, where we thought he would be safe. I just wish I was there to do something," she said.

"He was always the first to greet us when we got home. None of us could really sleep last night, so we stayed together in the same room. It's still really hard to comprehend.

"I guess two families have lost their pets now."

Kelvin and Richard said they already missed their friend Pepsi and their other dog Daisy was waiting for him to come home.

"We already miss him, he was lots of fun," Richard said.

She said everyone should be concerned at the number of attacks on people and other animals by pitbull-type dogs.

"We'd just hate this to happen to anyone else's dog.

"We thought Pepsi would have been safe at home, but this dog was so keen to get him. It's like losing a family member," she said.

The council's animal control supervisor Kevin Coutts said the pitbull's owner, "to her credit", surrendered her dog, which was immediately taken to a local vet and put down.

Mr Coutts said the pitbull's owner was would receive a $300 infringement notice for failing to comply with the menacing dog classification.

He said further investigations would be carried out before deciding if any further action would be taken.

Since July 1 last year, 60 dogs attacks on people had been recorded in the district and a further 140 attacks by dogs on other animals had been reported.

Of the attacks on people, 10 were confirmed as American pitbulls, with a further four unconfirmed.

Of the attacks on other animals, 14 were confirmed as American pitbulls with 27 more unconfirmed.

"I haven't got a beef with the dogs, but I do have issues with some of their owners. "When this type of dog attacks, the consequences are far worse than any other dog bite - they are maulings.

"They are very much over-represented in statistics regarding attacks on people and other animals." Mr Coutts said any dog classified under law as a menacing dog, which were mainly pitbulls, had to be muzzled at all times.

"Obviously [this one] wasn't muzzled and wasn't under control.

"When you put your dog in a backyard you expect it to be safe."

He said the council would be adopting a "zero tolerance" approach to people breaking the Dog Control Act and 33 per cent of all dog attacks in the district in 2015 were perpetrated by American pitbulls.

"American pitbulls make up 3.7 per cent of registered dogs in Rotorua and are automatically classified as menacing, so they must be de-sexed.

"They are dogs we can classify because of breed by their actions or observed actions.

"The owner of the dog must not allow the dog into the community unless it is tethered to a vehicle or contained in a cage or muzzled."

Any American pitbull seen not on a lead and/or unmuzzled would immediately result in the owner being issued with an infringement notice.

The same applied to any pitbull his team picked up that was not neutered or desexed.

Those dogs would not be released until their owner showed they were willing to get them desexed.

"But, only about 15 to 20 per cent of dog attacks actually get reported. They are mostly on family or friends and the owners want to protect the dog rather than themselves."