HOUMA, La. – A canine attack that left 4-year-old Mia DeRouen dead inside the Houma apartment she shared with her mother has sent shock waves through the community.
“The scene from what I understand was pretty horrific,” said Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis.
Investigators say a 130 pound "monster" of a pit bull, named Niko, mauled the little girl to death while she was watching television with her mother. Her mother, 27-year-old Megan Touchet, was also injured when she tried to rescue her daughter from the dog.
The canine then attacked Houma police officers, who say the dog posed such a threat, they had to shoot it about 12 times to get it to stop charging.
“It's shocking,” said Duplantis, of a large pit bull being around a small child.
The tragedy has renewed the debate over the controversial breed. It’s popping up on websites like www.dogsbite.org, which says it tracks serious dog bites and calls pit bulls a “dangerous” breed.
Advocates for pit bulls say otherwise.
“They are great family pets, they make great companions, they're really smart and easily trained,” said Ken Foster, founder of the Sula Foundation, which is aimed at promoting responsible pit bull ownership.
Foster says any dog's behavior depends on its environment and how it's raised.
And he says owners of all breeds should be aware of a dog's temperament and triggers.
“Often in cases like this, people think that it came out of the blue, when in most cases there were signs,” said Foster.
Warning signs can include occasional growling, snapping, or being territorial.
Experts say Niko may have been especially territorial because he was not neutered, and a six-month-old female dog in the home was starting to go into heat.
A Houma animal control officer said she is certain Niko is a pure bred pit bull, adding he is the biggest pit bull she has ever seen.
American Pit Bull Terriers normally top out at 80 pounds.
Niko appears to be registered on a pedigree database as an American Bully, which, according to the American Bully Kennel Club, was bred from pit bulls with the goal of breeding out dog aggression and maintaining a muscular appearance, loyalty and stability.
Above all, Foster says his heart goes out to the family.
“It's such an awful, awful ordeal for the people to go through,” said Foster.
Houma Police say the investigation into the attack is ongoing.