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/ Source: Associated Press

A judge ruled Tuesday that a pit bull that mauled a 4-year-old boy will spend the rest of its life in an animal shelter set up in an old jail by "America's toughest sheriff."

Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Deborah Griffith said the dog named Mickey will be housed in the no-kill shelter opened in 2000 byMaricopa 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.

Mickey, a pit bull which attacked 4-year-old Kevin Vicente, sits in a cage at West Valley Animal Care Center in Phoenix, Arizona.Michael Schennum / The Arizona Republic via AP, fil

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.

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.

Four-year-old Kevin Vicente was the victim of a dog mauling on Feb. 20 which left him with a broken eye socket and jaw. The boy has months, if not years, of reconstructive surgery ahead of him.Flor Medrano / AP, file

Arpaio, who has been dubbed "America's toughest sheriff" 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.

- The Associated Press