PHOENIX -- A judge on Tuesday opted not to put to death a pit bull that attacked a 4-year-old boy last month, but ordered it to be defanged, neutered and to have a microchip implanted.
The story of Mickey mauling Kevin Vicente's face has gone viral since the incident took place Feb. 20. Followers of the case on social media have taken sides for or against the pit bull. About a dozen supporters wearing "Save Mickey" T-shirts attended the dog's hearing Tuesday, some crying and reacting under their breath or to each other.
Kevin was under the care of his babysitter on Feb. 20. Mickey's owner was the son of Kevin's babysitter. Mickey was tied to an 18-foot-long chain and kept in a dog house in the common area of the babysitter's Phoenix apartment complex.
Guadalupe Villa, whose boyfriend's mother is Kevin's babysitter, was at the apartment complex the day of the attack. Villa brought her 5-year-old son there, and he and Kevin were playing near the dog.
Kevin walked within the radius of the 18-foot chain and the dog attacked Kevin from behind. Villa said her boyfriend tried to pull the dog off of Kevin, but the dog kept attacking. It is unclear exactly what triggered the attack. The pit bull also killed Villa's German Shepherd puppy about seven months ago, when the dog ran across the pit bull's area, Villa said.
Villa filed a vicious-dog petition a week later, asking a Phoenix Municipal Court judge to declare the dog a vicious animal, and order it to be put to death.
Villa testified that she filed the petition "because I know that if it would have been my son, I wouldn't want the dog to go to someone else's home and possibly hurt someone else."
Judge Deborah A. Griffith on Tuesday morning declared Mickey a vicious dog based on the testimony. She also ordered the dog to spend the rest of its life at a rehabilitation facility for animals. She said she did not want the animal adopted or fostered out.
Griffith also chided adults, including Villa, who were present during the attack last month. The "Beware of Dog" sign placed at the residence and the fact that Mickey was tied to a chain signified Mickey's owners knew the dog could act violently, Griffith said.
"This is a tragedy. This is just horrible for this child, oh my goodness. But I think there are a lot of adults responsible," Griffith said.
The group of Mickey supporters responded with a resounding, "Yes," and clapped. Those who want to see Mickey live have argued the adults are to blame for the attack, not the pit bull.
"We're not talking about a poodle," Griffith said. "We're not talking about a dog going up and licking this child's face. We're talking about a dog that attacked this little boy."
Maricopa County Animal Care and Control Sgt. Timothy Rummel testified Tuesday about his investigation into the attack. The pit bull was timid and scared after arriving at the county shelter, as dogs are expected to be, but has since become territorial inside its cage, Rummel said. Mickey shows signs of predatory behavior, especially based on how he has attacked a small boy and killed a small dog, Rummel said.
Samantha Kabbel, an animal behavioral expert hired by the defense to evaluate Mickey, agreed the pit bull showed predatory behavior. But the dog also showed signs of abuse, she said. When there was movement or an object above his head, Mickey would lie close to the ground, squint his eyes and anticipate a blow -- a sign that he has been subjected to corporal punishment, Kabbel said.
Kabbel said she believes the pit bull is treatable. She recommended the judge send the animal to a rehabilitation facility in New Mexico that specializes in chained dogs. She also asked the judge to order the pit bull to be neutered, which would lower its testosterone levels and calm it down.
"I do think that Mickey has had inappropriate training -- at best, not guided training," Kabbel said.
After rehabilitation, the dog could be sent to a sanctuary identified and vetted by Kabbel to live the rest of his life, he said.