PHOENIX (AP) – A judge ruled Tuesday that a pit bull that mauled a 4-year-old boy earlier this year will spend the rest of its life in an animal shelter set up in an old jail by the sheriff for metropolitan Phoenix.
Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Deborah Griffith said the dog named Mickey will be housed in the no-kill shelter opened in 2000 by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an animal lover who offered to take in the 4-year-old pit bull.
Griffith had declared the dog vicious at a hearing a month ago but declined to have him euthanized after animal-rights advocates came to its defense. Instead, she ordered Mickey to be neutered and defanged and gave the Lexus Project, a New York-based animal-rights group and the dog's trustee, 30 days to find a rehabilitation center or shelter to take him. The judge said the dog could not be put up for adoption.
The Feb. 20 attack left 4-year-old Kevin Vicente with a broken eye socket and jaw, and the boy has months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery ahead of him.
The case touched off a polarizing Internet debate on mercy, blame and animal violence, leading to candlelight vigils and riling up thousands of animal lovers on social media who placed blame with the dog's owners and child's baby sitter. Donations and gifts from around the world have flowed in for Kevin since the dog bit the boy in the face.
Animal advocates say both the dog and boy are victims and a baby sitter watching the child was negligent in letting him play near the animal. They also argued the owner was fostering aggression by keeping the dog chained up.
The sheriff, who is known nationally for his immigration enforcement efforts and housing jail inmates in tents, testified that he was confident that Mickey would be housed at the shelter for the rest of the dog's life.
Arpaio also said he didn't get involved in the case to get publicity.
Later in the day, the sheriff will testify at a deposition in a civil rights lawsuit that the U.S. Justice Department filed against his office alleging racial profiling, retaliation against critics and other accusations. Arpaio denies those claims.
At the dog's hearing, the question was raised of what would become of the animal if Arpaio is no longer sheriff.
"I expect to be the sheriff forever," the 81-year-old sheriff quipped.
The judge pressed Arpaio on what would happen to the animals in his shelter if a future sheriff were to end the shelter program. Arpaio answered that any sheriff who would close such a program wouldn't get re-elected.
A supporter of the dog, Veronica Lee, said Mickey will be able to enjoy more freedoms in Arpaio's shelter than at another county facility where he's currently being held.
"Today, justice was served for Mickey," she said.
Griffith also denied a request from a lawyer representing the dog to rescind her order that Mickey be defanged.
Attorney John Schill said it would make more sense to give the $2,500 the procedure costs to the injured child's family. Schill said the defanging wouldn't result in the dog losing his canine teeth, but rather they would be cut down and capped to match the height of the other teeth.
"Kevin's injuries are so vast and so devastating that $2,500 is really just a drop in the bucket," Griffith said, adding that she doesn't want the dog to harm another person.