November 5th, 2012
02:50 PM ET

Zoo: No time to save child mauled by African painted dogs

It happened in seconds. A 2-year-old boy slipped over a railing, bounced into a safety net, bounced again, and tumbled into an exhibit of African painted dogs, which mauled him to death.

The heartbreaking scenario came to light Monday as the Pittsburgh Zoo released details of the child's death Sunday.

If someone had jumped in to save him, would it have helped? "In my professional opinion, no," zoo President Barbara Baker, a veterinarian, said at a news conference today. "There were 11 dogs in the exhibit."

Although there were zoo officials within feet of the exhibit, and others rushed to the scene, it was too late – it was clear the child was dead, Baker said. "There was no reason to send our staff into harm's way" at that point, she said.

An emergency weapons team and the police arrived. The dogs were moved to another area and are now quarantined. But one dog refused to leave. The police needed to access the scene so, with the zoo's approval, two officers opened fire, killing the remaining dog.

The medical examiner found that the little boy did not die from the fall, Baker said.

Railings throughout the zoo are designed to make it difficult to place children on them, Baker said. They're at a 45-degree angle so that if a child is placed on one and falls, he or she would hopefully fall backward, away from the animal enclosure, she said.

Pittsburgh police say the child was with his 34-year-old mother when he fell from the top of a platform railing and "was immediately attacked by eleven dogs inside the pen."

"Homicide investigators have interviewed several witnesses and zoo personnel, and the investigation is ongoing," police said in a written statement.

Asked whether the zoo takes responsibility for not creating a fail-proof system, Baker responded, "We do everything we possibly can," and "we evaluate it every single day." There is "no such thing as a fail-proof exhibit," she said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums will require a report from the zoo, and if it deems necessary, will send an investigative team, Baker said.

All the dogs had physicals in September, which include rabies shots, she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected the zoo in September and found no deficiencies, she said. The agency, by law, will return for a follow-up inspection.

Baker did not say whether or how procedures may change as a result of the accident. The zoo has never faced this kind of tragedy, she said.

The zoo will reopen tomorrow, but the African painted dogs exhibit is closed until further notice.

The child has not been identified, and his family has made no public statement.

See our story from yesterday here.

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Filed under: Animals • Dogs • Pennsylvania • U.S.
soundoff (964 Responses)
  1. rjgfrom704

    Charge the mother with criminal negligence.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • True Story

      I agree. Purposely putting your child in a dangerous situation leading to their death should definitely be punishable. The mother should definitely be charged.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:02 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ling Cho

    A karate man shoulda been there. A karate man coulda rescued him.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wombat

      Chuck Norris.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stephanie Humboldt

    Never let you child out of site! I agree with others and blame the mother. They shouldn't have killed the last dog. At least use a medicated dart and transport the dog. What a shame and a waste.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • A

      Seriously? What's with all you women, presumably mothers, who are so judgmental of this woman? Just cold. As if you could do better.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarita

      At stephanie, I agree!!!!!! And "A" ummm yea it is the mother's fault nad we could do better. I am a mother, and how bout not putting a toddler on a high railing...obviously dumb idiots wouldnt get that.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spenny Spen

      ^ Daniela i pray that syphalis claims your hands so you can't spew your ridiculous religious mumbo jumbo across the comment section of every article i see.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • diana horton

      the shame and waste is the life of the child. the zoo offical told the police to shoot the dog, as they were not able to get
      close the the little boy. my heart goes out to the mother.

      November 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Coco

    Really CNN? You choose to add a commercial to preclude this story that is about a 2 year old running away from his father? Tasteless .

    November 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • a9ymous

      Not sure what story YOU read, but the child didn't 'run away from his father', the child's mother placed him on the railing.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • True Story

      @ a9ymous – Apparently YOU can't read. Coco was referring to the commercial not about the two-year-old that died running away from his father.

      November 11, 2012 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Anton

    If your child fell in wouldn't you jump in

    If 11 people jumped in would dogs still attack.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • rh

      Yes, I would have jumped in, and maybe I would have died too. But I would have tried to save my child.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      Yes. Eleven humans are no match for eleven wild dogs armed with teeth and claws.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Over the railing, 14 foot drop to the ground. Sounds like the dogs were right on him, so you would have to leap over the fence to get down there in time. You would be lucky to not break bones, let alone rescue the kid from 11 wild dogs in a eating frenzy. Need time to get a stick? Too bad, hit the dogs with your fists!

      November 5, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • barb

      If it were my child, I would have jumped in. This is based on reaction not reason. How gruesome the mother did nothing but act helpless.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @Anton, Barb, Eric. If my kid fell in, I'd be going in right after him. And likely no stick readily available as I and the pack closed in on the child. And me and my two fists...against a pack of 11. Eric makes a good point. I wouldn't have had a chance. I was attacked a long time ago by one dog and snapping jaws are really, really hard to defend against! They'd have two bodes to deal with, but I wouldn't have stopped to reason. Thankfully my kids are older and still safe. This poor toddler died a gruesome death.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ali

      barb, Things like this happen so fast you don't really have time to react. It's really easy to say you would do this or should do this but in reality you can't know what you would do until you are in a situation.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • ash

      honestly i would hope even if putting my life in danger i would jump in the encloser for my child and throw my body over hers. i would hope i would try my best esp after i was the one that put her in harms way

      November 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Elite financial

    I think this poor mother made a fatal mistake, which she will have to live with and pay for for the rest of her life. My heart goes out to her and the entire family. We all make bad decisions in life, just some way worse than others. Anyone throwing stones at this poor woman, remember what Jesus said. May she always have her son watching over her, and may god bring her peace

    November 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • tba

      That is a kind comment Elite. Indeed, some mistakes and lack of judgement have much more severe consequences.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. j w maganda

    Why did they have to kill the dog? He was just being a wild dog. Young children depend on their parents to make the right choices for them. Obviously, putting this child up on the rails was not a good one. My heart goes out to the mother. A trip to the zoo is supposed to be a happy occasion. To watch your child fall and then be mauled by wild dogs......I would have lost it.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mary Kaye Waterson

      Because they didn't know the child was already dead and they couldn't get to him because the last dog wouldn't leave. So they shot it.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • leee

      Because I believe the dog was eating the child and refused to leave so they shot it instead of allowing it to continue to eat the child.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Trust me..."I would have lost it" does not even cover a small part of the pain these people have to be feeling.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gonga

    Hey Anton,

    You may not jump in to save your own child but most people would. You sound fat...and lazy. And cowardly. Very cowardly.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • a9ymous

      No, "most people" would NOT jump into the middle of a pack of wild animals that are in the midst of shredding their prey to pieces (which, to them, is what it was).

      November 6, 2012 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Right when faced with something as tragic as this, we all know what we would do...do you have any idea how shock can impair a person????

      November 7, 2012 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Thinker

    WHAT IS THE $ DAMAGE ?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      Picking an suitable screen name–you're doing it wrong.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @Dan. Kudos!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Armand

    Terrible thing but it could have been avoided by the boy's mother.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • rh

      That sums it up. Sorry for all involved, but pack animals do what they do.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. for the people

    you are so smart that you are stupid!!!!

    November 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Keepalowprofile

      I never met a man so ignorant, that I couldn't learn something from him.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • crabman

      really?

      November 6, 2012 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. RogueRobots

    As a Pittsburgher, I have been going to the zoo for for 40+ years. The zoo is safe and well-maintained. Neither the zoo or the dogs should be blamed. The dogs merely followed their wild instincts as pack hunters. The zoo has appropriate barriers to protect people while allow them to view rare animals in a natural setting. It always amazes me how carelss some parents are with very young children. The zoo has acted responsibly in providing safety for visitors, but all parents need to exercise normal caution and not put a child in harms way. I feel very sorry for the parents of this child, but hope that they will not sue the zoo which does not appear to be at fault. The zoo has provided so much education about animals to the children of Western PA. It won't benefit anyone if animals are placed behind so many barriers that you can't even see them.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Name*dj

      safety net that didnt work? what was it designed as? a trampoline?

      November 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I bet you would rethink your sympathy for the animals as they were tearing you to shreds.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • lordnimrond

      It's not about "sympathy for the animals" Bob,... If we had "sympathy for the animals" they wouldn't even be locked up in the zoos, they'd be living free in their natural environment.

      What this is about is, if we're going to keep potentially dangerous animals in an enclosed environment on display, then it is OUR responsibility to make sure not to put our children at risk by dangling them our over an enclosure by placing them on a fence that overhangs the enclosure at a 45-degree angle...

      As horrible as this tragedy is, and it is, in fact, incredibly horrible, it could have been completely avoided if the woman had been more responsible with the safety of her child. A two-year old should not have been allowed to climb, or been placed upon, a fence that barely separates you from a wild animal enclosure, just as assuredly as a child of that age shouldn't be allowed to wander out into traffic. The animals were within the areas the zoo enclosed them... The child ended up where the parent allowed him to go... We're not wild animals.... We're supposed to be the responsible ones...

      November 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      Name*dj

      safety net that didnt work? what was it designed as? a trampoline?

      It was not a safety net. It was only designed to catch small items that might fall from a hand..eg. a camera, cell phone, etc. Nothing as large as a two year old child.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      I am a Pittsburgh mom and my mind isn't where yours is. I am consumed by prayer for these people who I do not know...and am not looking at other angles of this as they need nothing but our prayers and compassion right now.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tatawnca

    My rear the fact that a adult can protect vital organs much better then a toddler could. COWARDS, I would of look like WWF coming off the railing to get to that defenseless child. Stunned at the LACK of humanity in some people. Adults can last minutes in an attack 5-10 even. What a sad horrible situation. Quite disgusted in the mother and zoo help. I would of chucked one of the zoo officials in that said don't enter it from up there. "we're gonna go in buddy.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • scolou

      U wouldn't have lasted 60 seconds

      November 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • joeNYC

      Having had to fight off a pit bull once (I have the scars in my wrist to prove it) I can tell you that we are no match for hunting animals. One alone would give a man a problem. Two would cause brutal, life threatening injuries.

      11? Forget it. You're not protecting vital organs because you only have 2 hands.... you're dead. It's that simple.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Knippel

      You have no understanding of the kind of animal these dogs are. Eleven dogs would rip an adult to shreds in no time flat.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      I would have gone in too without hesitation. Thank goodness I wasn't there only to find I more than likely would not have. Somehow it is easier puicturing it than doing it...I'm so much braver when I am not there. I was recently at a zoo where a parent lifted a 4-6 year old OVER the safety fence so the kid could see the cute black panther. My wife went balistic and searched for a zoo attendent and when she could not find one was looking for the family to express her outrage at their lack of responsibility or stupidity. Maybe the bravest are those who don't wait for the tragedy to unfold but take action to avert it even if it will not be appreciated? Too bad my wide wasn't at this zoo – she may have sent the family away very angry but intact.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • rh

      That's what I don't get, why someone didn't immediately jump in afterwards to try to save the kid.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      rh

      That's what I don't get, why someone didn't immediately jump in afterwards to try to save the kid.

      rh...because no one wanted to die at that time. anyone going into the pen would have died with the child. No one would have come out alive.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. rad666

    Sorry for the loss of this child, but this is purely on the parent, she never should have put that child where she put him. period. But in this day and age of I'm not responsible for my actions everyone else is. We have to play the blame game and the judgement game.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stacey

      I couldn't agree more. Parents need to take responsibility for their actions. If the 2 year old wasn't placed on the railing, he wouldn't have fallen in !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Chris

    100% stupidity on behalf of the parent...i have taken my own children to zoos and NEVER placed them on railings or let them lift themselves on them...there is a reason why zoo's make rails a certain way and have signs up...if she was that stupid...to allow her 2 year old or hoist him on it herself, onto the railing...she will have to live with that the rest of her life. God bless this child. She best not try and sue the zoo...she's an idiot.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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