If a dog fatally mauls its owner's child, should the animal be killed or spared?

That's the question that will be debated in a Las Vegas courtroom after a southern Nevada toddler celebrating his first birthday was killed by a 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix named Onion.

The boy's family voluntarily gave the animal up for euthanasia after the April 27 death of Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan. But the New York-based Lexus Project argues the animal should be sent to live at a sanctuary outside Denver because it didn't do anything wrong and was only following its nature.

Onion was slated to be killed on Tuesday, but an 11th hour court injunction on Monday delayed the death at least until a Friday hearing.

The boy's father, Christopher Shahan, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the dog deserves to die. His son was at his grandmother's house in Henderson on his first birthday when he crawled to the sleeping dog and started petting him.

Officials said the 120-pound animal latched his jaws around the boy's head and began shaking him. The grandmother tried to pull the boy away. Other family members in the house rushed to help, but it was too late. The boy was flown to a hospital, where he was declared dead the next morning.

Rich Rosenthal, a New York-based lawyer who heads The Lexus Project, argued the child and his parents were at fault, not the dog, because the animal's nature is to attack if provoked while sleeping.

"I'm sure the parents are going through their own hell of how could we have let this happen, but killing the dog won't bring the child back," Rosenthal said. "Something grabbed the dog by the hair while it was sleeping and it reacted. In his mind, he didn't do anything other than what's normal for a dog to do."

The family could not immediately be reached Tuesday by The Associated Press for comment.

Under local laws, an animal is declared vicious and slated for euthanasia if it causes substantial bodily harm or death to a person.

"If people are interested in saving animals, I have a shelter filled with cats and dogs that could be adopted today," Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said.

The Shahan family acquired the dog when it was a puppy and said Onion had never shown aggression toward people. Before the attack, the boy often played with the dog without incident, they said.


Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com