"We have lost a gorgeous little boy who we all loved so much."
The Higgins family, from the Riverina town of Deniliquin, were in mourning on Monday after two-year-old Deeon was fatally mauled by his cousin's mastiff cross on Sunday.
It is believed the toddler was at his grandmother's house in the state's south-west and had gone outside to get an ice-cream from a freezer when the attack began about 2.30pm.
Deeon's grandmother, Joyce, tried to save the toddler, who turned two in December, but the animal is understood to have followed them into the Victoria Street house where the attack continued.
It was at this point that Deeon's mother, Vicki, arrived at the house and managed to fight the dog off.
"She's just arrived midway through and found this happening," a police spokeswoman said.
Deeon suffered critical injuries to his head and face and was taken to Deniliquin Hospital, where he later died.
His 70-year-old grandmother was also taken to hospital, where she was treated for exhaustion, bruising and abrasions.
A family spokesman said the incident had left them devastated.
“We would like to thank all friends and relatives for their thoughts and kind words, and everyone in our community in Deniliquin for their support over the past 24 hours," he said, asking that the family's privacy be respected.
“We are a close family and we will work through this together."
"There will be no further comment from the family and we ask that this be respected.”
Tributes have flooded social media as word spread through the small community of about 7500 people.
"Very sad day it has not only affected the family involved but also the town's people everybody's heart's are breaking for those in the family rest in peace little man," Kim Godfrey wrote on Facebook.
"Sending my condolences to Vicki & family," wrote Rebecca Steer. "Such a precious little life taken way too soon. Thinking of everyone involved and all Deni community."
Council rangers seized the dog, which was owned by Deeon's 24-year-old cousin who lived at the house. It was destroyed overnight.
Deniliquin mayor Lindsay Renwick said the dog was registered and had not shown any signs of any violence before the attack.
"It's a tragedy, it's something that always frightens me with dogs."
Council general manager Des Bliske said even if the dog had been registered as a dangerous breed, the boy could still have been attacked, because council guidelines are mostly concerned with how dangerous breeds should be handled and restrained in public. Dangerous dogs must be muzzled when they are outside their owner's property. The property must also have sufficient "containment measures", Mr Bliske said.
Mr Bliske said the brutality of the mauling was unusual. "We've probably had three or four [attacks] over the last 12 months, not all of them involving people.
"People that own dogs generally control them and keep them very well contained."
Detective Inspector Darren Cloak, of Deniliquin police, said the boy's family as well as residents of the Riverina town were "shocked" and "distraught".
"The community will be saddened by this, it's a tragic set of circumstances," he said.
Police are still investigating the attack but it is unlikely charges will be laid against the owner.
"The dog is a family pet, but obviously the matter will be put before the Coroner."