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'I'M SO SORRY' Welsh dog owner's agony after pet's horrific attack maims girl.

Byline: Laura Kemp

A WELSHMAN whose dog savaged a seven-year-old girl in a New Zealand park has told her family: 'I'm so sorry'.

Unemployed Thomas Henry Owen, 55, faces up to three months in prison and a pounds 1,700 fine after his American Staffordshire terrier named Joey tore off half of Carolina Anderson's face.

In court on Friday with friend Brian Hill, 44, who lives at the same Auckland address, they admitted being the owners of an animal that caused serious injury.

The pair, described as unemployed sickness beneficiaries, were granted bail until March 12 when they appear for sentencing.

Joey and a second dog owned by the two men were destroyed yesterday .

Police prosecutor Sergeant Jim Downey told Auckland District Court that Carolina was at the park in the North Island city's Westmere suburb with her family when, unprovoked and without warning, the dog attacked her as she was playing with two other children.

She was unable to defend herself and the dog released her head from its jaws only when it was hit. Owen then removed the dog.

Downey said Carolina suffered horrific and what had been potentially life-threatening injuries, including extensive blood loss.

Family members who rushed the child to the hospital had to return to the park to find missing parts of her face for reattachment.

Downey said when Hill and Owen were arrested neither showed remorse and appeared concerned only for their own self-preservation. But outside the court, defence lawyer Paul Wicks said the men didn't want to make any immediate comment except 'to say how sorry they are about what happened', particularly Owen who was said to be 'deeply distressed'.

A neighbour of Owen and Hill said: 'The dogs were like their children. They had first consideration. They took them walking every day and night, always on a lead.'

Another said they were 'great neighbours' who treated people 'with every consideration'.

Kidz First children's hospital surgeon Janek Januszkiewicz, who has already spent 12 hours operating on Carolina, says she faces years of reconstructive surgery.

Reliving the attack, her dad John Anderson said: 'I felt just instant fear and anxiety. Instant adrenalin. I raced over there ... The dog was mauling Carolina around the head and I dived between the dog and Carolina and tried to detach it.

'There was another male friend who was there with me, or close behind, and between the two of us... it seemed to take a long time to take the dog away from Carolina. I have no idea how long it was or wasn't, it felt like a very long time.

'Once we had the dog off her, it was semi-darkness and I could see immediately that she was badly injured.

'Her whole head was covered in blood. It was such a sickening moment. That I hope I never have to repeat in my life. Just despair. I picked her up in my arms - she was conscious - raced to the car with my wife. She was whimpering. I could see that the top part of her nose and right up to the forehead was missing right down to the depth of the eyes.

'There was just a red hole. There was a piece missing from her cheek.'

He also revealed his daughter was looking forward to getting a puppy before she was attacked. And incredibly he says if she still wants one now, that's OK with him.

John said: 'She can clearly distinguish between a good dog and a bad dog.'

John has started a campaign to change dog control laws and he is travelling to Wellington next week to confront politicians, including Prime Minister Helen Clark, with photographs of his daughter's wrecked face.

He wants immediate changes to laws on dog control, including the banning of dangerous breeds.

John said: 'I'm in it for the long-haul but it doesn't have to be a long-haul. It's up to the Government.'

The Foreign Office says it is in contact with the New Zealand authorities over the case.

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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 9, 2003
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