A toddler was killed when a dog her family had owned for just a week burst into the living room at her home and mauled her.
Bella-Rae Birch was bitten on the back of the head by the animal in front of her mother as they sat together on the sofa.
Despite the efforts of paramedics, the 17- month-old could not be saved and died in hospital.
Police destroyed the dog, said by neighbours to be Staffordshire bull terrier or pitbull-type breed, and were last night urgently trying to trace its previous owners.
Bella-Rae’s death in St Helens, Merseyside, in England, is the third fatal dog attack on a young child in the past six months and has reinforced calls for an overhaul of legislation covering dangerous animals.
The toddler’s parents – former sports shop manager Treysharn Bates, 23, and Ryan Birch, who have a young son called Kayden – had taken in the dog only a week ago, police said.
“They adopted it from a friend of a friend and thought it was a loving dog,” said a distraught family friend who helped give CPR to the little girl as she lay dying.
“It played with the children and the family took it for walks. They had no cause to think it could do what it did. They are loving parents and thought their children were safe with the dog.”
She said the dog “came out of the kitchen on impulse” and went into the living room where it “went for” Bella-Rae.
“It was horrific,” she added.
“It has come from nowhere and just grabbed her by the back of the head. I ran across when I heard screaming and me and a few neighbours did what we could do.”
Insisting the couple had no inkling the dog could be dangerous, she said: ‘They have made a mistake and they will pay for it for the rest of their lives.
“Bella-Rae was like a little doll and her mother worshipped her.”
A neighbour, Tesco maintenance worker Cliff Waring, said the scene he had witnessed was “terrible”.
“They are a lovely family and I know they dote on their kids,’ he added.
Joanne Matthews, 53, who saw police leading the dog outside, said it looked like a “Stafford- shire bull terrier or pitbull”.
She described Bella-Rae as “such a beautiful little girl”, adding: “It was lovely seeing her toddling about.”
In a statement thanking the community for their support, the toddler’s family asked for “some space and time to try and come to terms with the tragic loss of our much-loved Bella-Rae”.
“She will be sadly missed but never forgotten,” they added.
Police and paramedics were called to the terraced house at about 3.50pm on Monday. Yesterday Superintendent Steve Brizell, of Merseyside Police, said: “Bella- Rae has lost her life in the most unimaginably terrible circumstances and our thoughts are first and foremost with the family and the wider community.”
“At this stage we understand that the family dog they had bought just a week earlier has attacked Bella-Rae inside the family home.”
The force said the dog had been humanely destroyed and work was continuing to determine its breed and previous owners.
The town’s Labour MP Conor McGinn said the community was “in deep shock”.
It comes 15 years after five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson was savaged to death by a pitbull terrier at her family home in the town.
More recently, a three-month-old baby girl was mauled to death by an “out of control” husky at a beauty spot in Lincolnshire, while in November ten-year-old Jack Lis died after being attacked by an American Bully dog at a house in Caerphilly, South Wales.
The attacks have led to calls for an overhaul of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which dates back to 1991 and criminalises ownership of pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas, Argentine dogos and Brazilian mastiffs.
Bill Lambert, of the Kennel Club, said: “The problem with the legislation is that it suggests those four breeds are dangerous while others are not. The reality is that in a given circumstance, any dog can be a danger to children.”
The Kennel Club wants owners of dogs with a history of aggression to be required to undergo training or risk having their pet seized.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently considering a report which recommends shifting the onus from singling out “bad breeds” to educating owners about the dangers of dogs.
© Daily Mail