PHOENIX - A Phoenix judge on Tuesday spared the life of a pit bull that mauled a 4-year-old boy last month and touched off a polarizing Internet debate on mercy, blame and animal violence.
Municipal Court Judge Deborah Griffin ruled that the dog named Mickey must be neutered, defanged and microchipped. She declared the dog vicious earlier in the day and could have ordered euthanasia.
"There would be absolutely no possibility of the animal ever doing this to someone again," Griffin said, saying the dog must remain in a facility for the rest of its life and can't be adopted.
The Lexus Project, a New York-based animal rights group and the dog's trustee, has 30 days to find a rehabilitation center or shelter to take Mickey. An animal advocate in court started to cry when hearing the dog would live.
The Feb. 20 attack left Kevin Vicente with a broken eye socket and jaw, and the boy has months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery ahead of him.
The question of whether the pit bull should live or die attracted a team of top death penalty lawyers, led to candlelight vigils and riled up thousands of animal lovers on social media who placed blame with the dog's owners and child's baby sitter.
Meanwhile, donations and gifts from around the world have flowed in for Kevin since the dog bit the boy in the face.
Floridalma Vicente, the boy's mother, said she is grateful for the outpouring of public support, but can't understand the support that emerged for the dog.
"It disturbed me at first that they placed more value on an animal than on a child, and that made me feel very bad," Vicente told The Arizona Republic through a Spanish interpreter. "If they don't care about (Kevin), well, I do."
Neither Vicente nor the man who owned the dog attended the court hearing.
Guadalupe Villa, whose boyfriend's mother was baby-sitting Kevin the day of the attack, filed the vicious-dog court petition that started the case, saying Mickey has a history of acting without provocation and killed one of her dogs.
Animal advocates hit back, saying both the dog and boy are victims and Kevin's baby sitter was negligent in letting him play near the animal. They also argued the owner was fostering aggression by keeping the dog chained up.
On Tuesday, Griffin said several people shared some responsibility for the attack. The judge pointed out that there was a "Beware of Dog" sign on the property's fence but the gate was left open and children were allowed to play near the dog.
"This whole case has been very, very distressing to me," Griffin said, adding that Kevin will pay the price for the rest of his life.
A half dozen animal rights advocates attended the hearing in T-shirts that bore a paw mark and a slogan, "Save Mickey."
One of them, Veronica Lee, said the hearing showed that the baby sitter wasn't watching closely and that Mickey was kept chained.
"We were not here to put a dog above Kevin," Lee said. "We were just here to make sure justice was served."
Luis Acosta, who said he's not related to anyone involved in the case, disagreed with the judge's decision.
"Who is going to see to it five years from now that this dog still hasn't been adopted out?" Acosta said.
Those hoping to rescue Mickey took their cause to Facebook, where a "Save Mickey" page has garnered more than 59,000 likes. The dog's supporters recently used social media to organize a candlelight vigil and even a YouTube video plea.
Mickey has been living in a cage at the Maricopa County Animal Control and Care Center.