ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - An Orange County family is desperately trying to keep its 1-year-old dog from being put down, even though county animal services says it has no choice.
Rufus, a beagle, weighs 28 pounds, and seems shy in the corner of its kennel. But the pup is set to be euthanized soon because it bit the 4-year-old child he lived with.
"We're not talking about a dog that attacked a young boy, we're talking about a dog that got excited about new food," said attorney Jamie Halscott.
Halscott is representing Rufus' owners for free in their fight to get their dog back.
The boy's mother, Nikki West, said Rufus has never seemed aggressive and when he bit her son on the lip, it was a puppy's mistake because he was excited about his new food.
The clash between the two rambunctious young ones resulted in an injury that needed stitches.
A report released by Animal Services states that Rufus traveled about 10 feet and jumped up to bite the boy’s lip as the child was leaving a bedroom and the West was preparing the food.
When West took her son to the hospital, she filled out paperwork she was told was necessary whenever there's an animal bite.
It prompted animal control to take Rufus away, label him as a dangerous dog and put him on the list to be euthanized.
"I can only go and visit him for 15 minutes at a time and when he cries it just breaks my heart because he loves us too, and he's probably wondering, 'Why am I even in here?'" said West.
However, the report states that West voluntarily signed off Rufus to Animal Services, knowing that the dog may be euthanized. West told the officer that she surrendered all of Rufus’ items and did not want anything to remind her of the dog, and that she did not trust it, according to the report.
The report also states that when the officer went to remove Rufus from the crate, the puppy was in a state of fear.
"He's a good dog, never had an incident with them before, been with them his entire life," said Halscott.
Rufus' family took to Facebook and change.org to drum up support for Rufus, and raise money for a legal fund.
Hundreds of Facebook posts express support for the family.
Although thousands of people have already signed the petition online, Orange County Animal Services said the law has its hands tied.
"Rufus severely bit a young child and per the state statute, that we follow, an injury of that severity requires an intent to destroy," said Diane Summers of Orange County Animal Services.
The statute says that even a dog that hasn't been declared dangerous has to be put down if it causes serious injury to someone.
Because the boy needed stitches, the law says that's enough to warrant euthanizing the dog.
"The wording doesn't put in an exemption for inside your own house," said Halscott.
Halscott filed an injunction Tuesday to keep Rufus alive while they appeal his case. The attorney for the family said the boy only needed a couple stitches.
The Save Rufus Facebook page has more than 4,000 likes and a petition posted Monday night has more than 3,000 signatures.