A DEVASTATED mum told last night how brave George, a year-old whippet, lay down his life to protect her seven-year-old son from a savage pit bull attack. And now a £1,000 reward is being offered to find and prosecute the owner of the rogue dog.

The beloved pet refused to back down when the vicious pit bull approached Harry Naisbitt and his mum Paula in Darlington over the weekend.

And he placed himself between the young boy as the dog attacked, giving Harry's mum chance to make sure he was safe.

Last night the heartbroken family paid tribute to George's courage and told how he was "ripped to pieces" in the terrifying attack.

George was bought for Harry, who has autism, to help with his condition - and the two had developed a strong bond.

Mum Paula said when she saw the pit bull approach them as they walked down Ripon Drive in the town, at about 4.30pm on Saturday, she knew it was going to attack.

"I had Harry in one hand and the dog lead in the other," she said. "I saw the dog coming and I could see in its eyes it was going to attack. I only had time to throw Harry over this two-foot garden wall to protect him and told him to stay behind the gate. George protected us. If he hadn't been there I feel sure the dog would have attacked Harry instead.

"When I turned round the pit bull had sunk its teeth into George's throat. It didn't let go for fifteen minutes.

"I flagged cars down and people came to help. Two grown men were hitting it with metal bars and a steel spade to stop it, people were throwing water at it, and eventually the only thing that got it to let go was to run the dog over with a car.

"I was knocking on doors and someone came out and took Harry to safety. I was bitten on the hand as I tried to stop the dog but it could have been much worse. It was horrific - like a murder scene.

"The dog just ripped George to pieces."

The pit bull was trapped in a garden in the town's Geneva Road until police arrived to take it away. It is now expected to be destroyed. Ms Naisbitt said police had told her the dog been starved, making it more likely to attack.

Inspector Neil Fuller, of Darlington Police, said that the pit bull was loose, without a collar, and unmuzzled - an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. He said inquiries were ongoing to trace the owner. "It could have been a lot more serious," he added. "The dog was loose in a public place and have turned on the lady or her son, or another child."

Ms Naisbitt, who also has two daughters aged 22 and eight, said: "Harry has been a lot calmer since we got George . But I don't think we could have another dog after this ordeal.

"I have only just had the heart to tell Harry that George is dead. He is devastated.

"He did see the attack but he internalises things so I don't know yet how badly it has affected him."

"It is heartbreaking because on Easter Sunday we had a birthday party to celebrate George's first birthday. We got him a cake and he wore a party hat. He was a really lovely, soft dog. He didn't know to run from the pit bull because I don't think he's ever come across an aggressive dog before."

Harry's sister, 22-year-old Lucy, added: "George was a house pet and dearly loved. I have to thank my lucky stars that it didn't rip my baby brother to shreds like it did my dog."

*The National Animal Sanctuaries Support League (Nassl), based in Newton Aycliffe, has offered up a £1,000 cash reward it hopes will lead to the pitbull's owner being prosecuted.

Ray Mackinlay, chairman and founder member of Nassl, said the charity would be glad to pay the reward if the circumstances were right.

Theoretically, anyone arrested over this incident, which is being investigated by police, could be charged with being the owner or person in charge of a dog which is dangerously out of control in a public place, contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

According to the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, such an offence, which would be heard before a magistrates' court, carries a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment.

Mr Mackinlay said the reward would be triggered if the pitbull's owner was convicted in connection with the incident and receives a custodial sentence.

Nevertheless, the gesture has been welcomed by Ms Naisbitt, who is still coming to terms with the incident.

She said: "Without a doubt, I welcome this offer from the charity and hope it will help the owner be brought to justice.

"It could have belonged to anybody, there is a lot of older people living nearby, maybe it belongs to one of them, or to someone who feels afraid to come forward."