Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Killer dogs sow terror in Sicily

Paramedics treat a German tourist (not seen) mauled by dogs near Ragusa, Sicily, on 17 March
The latest victim was attacked and mauled on Tuesday

Italian police are hunting a pack of stray dogs which killed a boy aged 10 and mauled a 24-year-old woman in the Ragusa area of southern Sicily.

They caught about 30 strays after the boy was dragged off his bicycle and killed on Sunday but about 20 dogs are believed still to be running wild.

The priest at the boy's funeral accused society of turning animals into icons.

It is an offence to kill a dog in Italy and the country lacks properly funded pounds in which to collect strays.

Reports suggest the dogs had been neglected and starved by a man entrusted with caring for them. A suspect has been arrested.

Animal rights groups estimate there are up to half a million stray dogs, mainly in the south of the country, many of them abandoned by their owners and left to run wild.

Although local town councils are supposed to round up strays and put them in public kennels, the law is often ignored as public funds are not provided for building dog pounds, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

Health officials in Sicily are to meet on Wednesday to decide how to cope with the killer dog emergency.

Deep wounds

In the latest attack, the 24-year-old, a German tourist, was seriously injured while walking on a beach near Ragusa on Tuesday.

BBC map

"Her face was particularly disfigured," said Christian Ilardi, a rescue official who was on the helicopter that rushed the woman to Catania.

"Her life is in serious danger due to the wounds, which are very deep."

Local police killed two animals which tried to attack them during the day.

Some 7,000 mourners attended the funeral of Giuseppe Brafa, the boy killed on Sunday.

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