AN “ANIMAL loving” family have spoken of their relief after their dog was spared a death sentence.

Brutus, a Staffordshire bull terrier, faced being put down after attacking Maltese cross Yorkshire terrier, Toby, on December 28, causing serious internal injuries costing £1,800 in vet bills.

Alexandra Sciberras, who was walking in Maple Close, Dovercourt at the time, was left with bite marks on her hand after trying to protect her 11-month-old puppy from Brutus, owned by Marc Stevens of Langley Close, Dovercourt. Chelmsford Crown Court heard Mr Stevens, 63, was walking him when the attack occurred.

Defence barrister, Philippa Beswick, said a son of Mr Stevens had severe mental health problems and it was feared that if Brutus was ordered to be destroyed it could “push him over the edge” and he might take his own life.

Judge Anthony Goldstaub, QC, ordered Brutus must be muzzled in public and that Mr Stevens ensure garden fencing is secure.

The judge also made it a condition of a three-year community order that Mr Stevens must not be in sole charge of a dog in a public place.

The judge said: “I take account of the eloquent plea for Brutus's life, so there will not be a destruction order.’’ Mr Stevens, who admitted being in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, said: “We are so pleased with the decision. Brutus is not a dangerous dog, he is very good with people.

“Fighting against Brutus getting put down was the most important thing for me. Losing him would have broken my son’sheart.” He added: “We are animal lovers. We wouldn’t want to see any animal hurt. Brutus slipped his lead. It was an accident and we really feel for the other family.”

After the hearing, Alexandra Sciberras’s mother, Patricia, hit out at the sentence. She said she felt “let down” by the judge’s ruling. She said: “I am shocked. Mr Stevens hasn’t even been charged court costs, let alone our vet bills or compensation.”

She said Alexandra, aged 13 at the time, now did want to go out walking Toby, and was now nervous of other dogs.