IMAGE: Darryl Wilson with picture of George
Nic Gibson  /  AP
Four-year-old Darryl Wilson holds a picture of George, a 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier that gave his life to save five New Zealand children from two marauding pit bulls, in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on Monday.
updated 5/2/2007 2:46:52 PM ET 2007-05-02T18:46:52

A plucky foot-high Jack Russell terrier named George saved five New Zealand children from two marauding pit bulls, but was so severely mauled in the fight he had to be destroyed, his owner said Wednesday.

George was playing with the group of children as they returned home from buying sweets at a neighborhood shop in the small North Island town of Manaia last Sunday when the two pit bulls appeared and lunged toward them, his owner, Allan Gay, said.

"George was brave — he took them on, and he's not even a foot high," Gay told The Associated Press. "He jumped in on them, he tried to keep them off.

"If it wasn't for George, those kids would have copped it."

One of the children, Richard Rosewarne, 11, was quoted in the Taranaki Daily News on Wednesday as saying George fought with the pit bulls to keep them off his 4-year-old brother, Darryl.

"George tried to protect us by barking and rushing at them, but they started to bite him — one on the head and the other on the back," Rosewarne said. "We ran off crying, and some people saw what was happening and rescued George."

But George, aged 9, was so badly mauled that a veterinarian had to put him down, Gay said.

"The two pit bulls ripped the skin from his throat and chest and down his back," he said, adding the tough little terrier also "had a bad heart condition."

Gay said the pit bulls' owner had surrendered the pair to dog control officers and demanded they be destroyed, claiming they had launched unprovoked attacks previously.

South Taranaki District Council official Graham Young said the two dogs had been impounded and likely would be destroyed because of the attack.

In New Zealand, owners of dogs judged to be too aggressive can be required to have them neutered, and dogs involved in attacks are destroyed.

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