The family of a schoolgirl left scarred for life following a savage dog attack have spoken of their devastation after a court agreed the animal could be returned to its owner.
Six-year-old Layla Musse, from Burmantofts in Leeds, suffered gaping wounds when a Staffordshire bull terrier mauled her face and neck as she walked home from school.
She was only saved from potentially life-threatening injuries after two passers-by wrestled the animal from her.
Its owner, 56-year-old Sharman O’Flaherty, of Haslewood Drive, was yesterday ordered to pay £500 in compensation after pleading guilty at Leeds Magistrates’ Court to allowing the dog, called Bullseye, to be dangerously out of control in a public place.
But District Judge Roy Anderson said the dog should not be destroyed – and could be allowed home – because it had not attacked anyone before.
He imposed a suspended destruction order, meaning that the animal could be put down if it attacks again.
Layla’s father, Sadag, said: “I’m devastated and very angry.
“We have to live now knowing the dog is still out there and could do this again. How could that happen?”
Layla was walking with her mother from Ebor Gardens Primary School to her home on Haslewood Close on December 3 when the dog ran from the front yard of a property on Haslewood Drive.
It clamped its jaws around her face and neck, biting a large flesh wound in her cheek and ripping flesh from the back of her head.
A man and a woman who were driving past jumped out and managed to drag the dog away after an attack lasting minutes.
Mr Musse added: “If it hadn’t been for them, my daughter would be dead. I can’t thank them enough.”
Layla needed four hours of surgery and dozens of stitches.
Amanda Harris, prosecuting, said the incident caused “significant injuries.”
Asking the district judge to consider a destruction order, she added: “There is a lot of strong feeling locally.”
Hayley Cutler, mitigating, said O’Flaherty had started looking after the dog when her son was taken to hospital after being assaulted.
She added that the dog spent a lot of time with children without problems.
“Prior to this incident, she never had any issues,” Miss Cutler said.
Mr Anderson said: “More and more cases involving dogs come before these courts, often involving dogs that have caused no particular problems on previous occasions but who, for some reason, then attack perfectly innocent members of the public and cause serious injuries.”
He added: “Layla suffered very unpleasant facial injuries but, as one might expect, her terror at seeing or hearing dogs is a feature of her day-to-day life.”
However, he said the animal had never shown signs of dangerous behaviour before and a report by an expert said it could be kept under control if it was castrated, muzzled in public and kept on a permanent leash.
He took the unusual step of ordering O’Flaherty to pay compensation instead of a fine.
Imposing a suspended destruction order on the dog, he added: “I’m required in this case to order that the dog should be allowed to live.”
PC Mike Bateman, who investigated the incident, paid tribute to the passersby who intervened.
He added: “The incident has had a lasting traumatic effect both on the victim and on her family and once again illustrates the terrible consequences of dog owners failing to keep their animals under proper control.”