WELLINGTON, New Zealand – This is a dog story.
It's about a plucky little Jack Russell terrier named George, who stood like a giant against two marauding pit bulls and gave his own life to save five kids from the steel-trap jaws and razor-sharp teeth of the vicious attack machines.
Local officials say it's also a story about the people who trained the pit bulls to kill and who may have fed the animals methamphetamines to make them even more deadly.
The tragedy unfolded Sunday afternoon on New Zealand's North Island, in the town of Manaia, where a group of children — and George — were walking back from a trip to the candy store.
Out of nowhere, the children told police, the two pit bulls lunged at them.
One of the kids, Richard Rosewarne, 11, told the local paper that George never backed down against the pit bulls, doggedly refusing to let the them get at his little brother, 4-year-old Darryl.
"George tried to protect us by barking and rushing at them, but they started to bite him — one on the head and the other on the back," Rosewarne said. "We ran off crying and some people saw what was happening and rescued George."
It was too late, however, to save the little 9-year-old terrier. Steven Hopkinson, the veterinarian who treated George, said the dog's wounds were the worst he'd seen. Putting him down, Hopkinson said, was the only option.
For Allan Gay, George's owner, the loss is especially devastating. He lives alone and George had been his faithful companion for seven of his nine years, inheriting the pup when neighbors moved away.
"These two pitbulls rushed up and were going for the little boy," Gay said, choking back tears. "George went for them, it's what he would do. He didn't stand a chance, but I reckon he saved that boy from being chewed up.
"If it wasn't for George, those kids would have copped it," Gay said.
Gay said he had been receiving phone calls non-stop from relatives and news media since word got out about George's heroics.
"The phone has been going since about half past seven this morning. Every time I hang up it rings again. It's worn out; I might have to get a new one," he said.
The pit bulls, meanwhile, were found Tuesday and turned over to local officials, who said they would be destroyed.
Officials also are investigating reports that the dogs could have been given methamphetamines to make them more aggressive and very unpredictable.
"I understand it commonly happens in Rotorua," animal control officer Kiernan Best said.
"The pitbulls I've had dealings with are naturally aggressive because of the type of people they are with," Best said. "They keep pitbulls around because they don't like visitors, and one can only presume they have something to hide, that they are into crime and drugs.
"They are paranoid about officials visiting and the dog emulates the owner," Best said.
Gay, meanwhile, and the kids George saved built a makeshift memorial to their hero.
"George was brave," Gay said, as each of the kids held a photo of the little pup they'll never forget. "He took them on and he's not even a foot high. ... He jumped in on them, he tried to keep them off."
And, he gave his life doing so.
The Associate Press and Taranaki Daily News contributed to this report.