A four-year-old mauled to death by a pet dog has been described by neighbours as a happy, sweet little girl.

The dog, believed to be a French bull mastiff, was the family's pet and had been brought from a rescue home according to neighbours.

The little girl, named locally as Lexi, lived with her mother Jodi Hudson who, a ccording to reports, stabbed the dog as she tried in vain to save her daughter.

Police said the animal died shortly after the attack which happened just after noon yesterday in Rowena Court in the town of Mountsorrell, between Loughborough and Leicester.

Leicestershire Police said officers were called to a flat in the street at about 12.15pm following a report of a young girl being attacked by a dog.

A spokesman said the youngster was taken to the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, where she died.

Glennis Goddard, who has lived in the quiet cul-de-sac of small blocks of flats for 27 years, said: "Their pet dog has attacked a little girl, Lexi.

"It's a terrible shock.

"She was a sweet little thing and used to run round here on a bike and knock on my windows.

"She used to play with our cats, outside.

"She wasn't very big, only a little thin thing."

Ms Goddard said the dog had been no trouble at all previously and could not understand why it had apparently turned.

She said she had been stroking the dog just two days ago after seeing it out with Ms Hudson.

"Something must have snapped him," she said.

"I was stood talking to Jodi down across the lane and she was saying 'he's a lovely dog, I love him' and he let me stroke him.

"I can't understand why he went off like that."

Ms Goddard said the little girl and her mother would often be seen out together walking the dog, but that generally the animal was "kept inside".

Of Lexi, she said: "You've only got to look at her and she'd got a big smile on her face."

Ms Goddard's partner and carer Oliver Temperell said: "She had a little pink scooter and she'd go round and round the flats.

"She'd come up to our flat, tap on the window.

"She was very happy, everything was fun - as it is when you're a four-year-old."

Ms Goddard only knew something was wrong when she came home to see police putting cordon tape around her window.

"I opened the window to ask the policeman what had happened and he just said there'd been an incident, but he couldn't tell us anything else," she said.

She then called her neighbour who lives next to the house where the attack happened.

"She told me the dog's attacked the little girl and had gone to hospital."

Ms Goddard described the dog as being "a mastiff-type", but she hardly ever saw it out.

"It never came out she always kept it in.

"I didn't even know the name of the dog."

Arthur Nash, another neighbour, said: "Everybody is in shock at the moment with her dying.

"When I saw an ambulance pull up I thought it was an old lady on the court who had had a heart attack, and then the neighbour came up and said she had been killed by the dog. We're in shock.

"The family has a similar sort of thing to the dogs that have been going off lately, similar to the dangerous dogs.

"I'm not saying it was dangerous but it looked a similar dog."

Another neighbour, who asked not to be identified, added: "I always say hello when I pass, and the little girl used to play outside - she used to say hello when she was playing. It is just such a shock, such a sad shock."

Gloria Longmire, a secretary at Mountsorrel Methodist Church, regularly walks her dogs up nearby Cross Lane.

She said: "It's a shock, it's just a shock. It's shook me, it's dreadful.

"It's tragic, it is really tragic. I would say we do have a strong community here and people will be absolutely horrified, and it's dreadful that it's a family pet."

Melanie Wright, East Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman, said a 999 call had been been received at 12.05pm reporting an injured child who had been attacked by a dog.

She said: "We responded by dispatching clinicians in two fast response cars, a double crewed ambulance and the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance. We also informed Leicestershire Police.

"The child was taken to the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham where, tragically, she has since died.

"This was a very distressing 999 call for all concerned and we are providing support to our colleagues who responded."

It is not believed the dog was a breed listed under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Paul Ryan, a friend of the family, said they had the dog for only two months after picking it up from a local rescue centre.

He said that Ms Hudson was "in hysterics" after the attack and she kept saying that she had been told the dog was safe around children, the Daily Mirror reported.

Mr Ryan said: "Apparently it suddenly turned on Lexi for no reason. She was in bed sleeping with her mum and it came in and just went mental. It grabbed Lexi and wouldn't let go.

"Jodi was screaming and trying to pull its head away but it wouldn't give in. In the end she had to use a knife to release its jaw. It must have been absolutely terrifying."

Angela McGlynn, mother of four-year-old John-Paul Massey, who died in November 2009 after he was savaged by his uncle's dog, said the girl's death had raised painful memories.

"It brings everything back - straight back to day one all over again," she told ITV Daybreak.

"I would like to send out my sincere sympathies to Lexi's family because I know exactly what they are going through."

She renewed her calls for all dogs to be muzzled around children under 12.

"My campaign is to raise pet awareness, to let people know that these family pets do just turn the way they do and it's not just about breed, or just the dogs on the dangerous dogs list," she said.

"The Government are putting some steps in place ... but we can't just rely on the Government - parents and adults have to take steps too."

Dog trainer Ryan O'Meara called for greater education of owners, saying dogs could not be muzzled all the time and restricting dogs could increase aggression.

He said all dogs could be potentially dangerous and added that the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act - which he described as "knee-jerk legislation" - had given the impression that some breeds were not dangerous.

"Unfortunately I think a lot of the problem is that people don't understand that all dogs are capable of biting," he said.

"A dog can't wear a muzzle all the time and if you restrict a dog in any way you can actually increase aggression," he added.

"I would say to the Government that has had the Dangerous Dogs Act, you need to focus on compulsory education of all dog owners because we can avoid tragedies like this."

A police spokesman said: "Investigations are continuing into the circumstances that led to a four-year-old girl being attacked and killed by the family dog.

"Tests are being carried out today to establish the exact breed of the dog but at this stage it is not believed to be a breed listed under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act."