November 4th, 2012
03:11 PM ET

African painted dogs kill young boy at Pittsburgh Zoo

A group of African painted dogs killed a boy who fell into their exhibit today at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Barbara Baker, the zoo's president, said the child was around 3 years old.

He "fell off an observation deck that's about 14 feet above the exhibit," she said, "and was killed by the dogs."

"Our emergency teams and our Pittsburgh police responded immediately, but there wasn’t anything that could be done," added Baker.

The boy fell into the enclosure at 11:45 a.m., and visitors quickly alerted staff, the zoo said in a statement. A zookeeper moved seven of the 11 dogs out of the exhibit, and a Veterinarian Department member shot darts trying to scare away the remaining dogs.

"Unfortunately, the dogs were in pack mentality and not responding," the zoo said.

Zookeepers, meanwhile, entered the exhibit to try to lure the dogs away, but they could not reach the boy in time. The keepers and Pittsburgh police officers continued efforts, too, to lure away the dogs, and "one aggressive dog was shot and killed by an officer," according to the zoo.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and the associated PPG Aquarium are closed until further notice.

African painted dogs are among the most endangered dog species in the world, with less than 5,000 left in the wild, according to the zoo. The zoo has a breeding program.

Each is about the size of a small German shepherd, Baker said.

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Filed under: Animals • Pennsylvania • U.S.
soundoff (1,798 Responses)
  1. Lisa

    Look, I was AT the zoo today. AT the dog exhibit 10 minutes before this happened. I didn't see what happened, but I heard the screams and I have not stopped thinking about it-nor will I probably sleep tonight over this. I had my three year old up to the rail to see the "doggies". I'm 5'5, and with him balanced on my bent knee the rail came up to his armpits and he could rest his arms on the rail and see EVERYTHING. Even with only his head hanging over the rail looking down I was horribly uncomfortable. I feel terrible for this poor woman and her family, but I can't imagine WHY she did what she did. My husband and I were even saying as we left the exhibit how unsafe that was and a "climber" (like our 3 year old) who goes unsupervised for a brief period of time could get over. There is, unfortunately, plenty of blame to go around. The whole damn thing should have been enclosed.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sad & bad

    The dog probably would not give up the child, so they had to shoot him. It was the right thing to do.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      No it was the wrong thing to do. The dogs are an endangered species, the human child is not endangered..No damage
      to the gene pool by sacrificing the human .

      November 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. markiejoe

    I have actually been to zoos and seen parents lift their 2 or 3-year-old child up and stand them on a top railing overlooking an enclosure like this. So incredibly dangerous. You just want to scream at these ignorant parents and grab their child away, but all you can do is walk away and pray nothing horrible happens to the child growing up with such neglectful parents. In this case, sadly something horrible did happen.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nelda

      I've often seen parents and older sibs place little children on top of a ledge or railing. I've never said anything to them, but next time I see it, I will. It may have been the fall that killed this little one.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaLe

      Yes, particularly as children grow older they put on weight and perhaps even learn to be more evasive respectivly learn to move, so parents can't necessarily expect that they are capable of holding child as when they were a baby. Nevertheless, it can be expected that parents and children appear to be in zoos, so I would foremostly talk about the overall and particular constructions of zoos, as well living conditions of the animals.

      Re constructions, one particularity is that more glassy and distance should be used.

      Re animals, a variety of things can influence or cause (increased) aggresivity – e.g. hunger, closed too small environment, stress (perhaps merely from having someone most of the time physically above) – and in this case (part of it) could have been a kind of "Pavlov reflex" as in that "dogs" are fed by having food respectivly dead meat thrown to them and the child likely was in shock so while itself not really having experienced it unfortunately could have made the impression of being "food".
      The topics are certainly more extensive. E.g. most birds usually naturally travel (themselves) in a year more than humans yet many are kept at spaces smaller than most humans live at. (Personally a fan of them bird domes btw as they are certainly better than cages.)

      November 4, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaLe

      *hunger and aggresivity – it surely could be argued that with humans often the contrary is the case, that is that being fed gives the energy for rage. Tho, in my view, hunting animals usually go to hunt when hungry or about to so it has a role about "aggresivity".

      November 4, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ted Striker

    Predictable, "that would NEVER happen to my child," and "I would have defended my kid" responses. You guys feel better about yourselves now? Doesn't help a damn thing except your egos.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      What does that have to do with ego? If someone is irresponsible, they're irresponsible.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Saboth

    The boy's parents were negligent, but I'm more disturbed by the officer that shot the dog. The dog was confined to an exhibit.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zwei Stein

      I'm very disturbed by YOU.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. parents worst nightmare

    but if there were no zoo's there would be no african dogs since they were breeded here

    November 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kim

    As a zookeeper at another zoo, I am surprised on a daily basis the things parents allow their children to do at zoos. Not a day goes by that I am not stopping children from climbing over or under fences, usually its the parents yelling at us, the staff, for correcting their children. I hate to sound horrible, but its surprising this does not happen more often.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      The mother is probably going to sue the zoo for her own stupidity.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sward

    I hope the family/loved ones of this child don't read these comments, but if they do- I am so very sorry for your loss. To whomever was holding the child, may you find peace some day. Your boy is gone from this life, but I believe you will be with him again some day and until then- he is okay and he forgives you. Life on this earth is a fragile thing. Let's all be more compassionate, loving and present- because we never know when it will be our time to go.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Caihlyn

    Sad loss of life...I don't quite understand how a child can fall from an observation deck. Wouldn't there be a gate or railing or even a glass wall enclosing the deck?

    In response to those who think dangling a child over a pit or tank of dangerous animals is helping them to get a better look...think again. My husband still has a fear of falling over a railing from a height ever since his uncle held him over a shark tank at an aquarium at two years old.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zwei Stein

    I can't imagine the pain this mom feels. She will live in a nightmare her entire life. She doesn't need anyone to remind her or to judge her.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. DebAH

    How horrible for all involved. I can only hope the baby was killed, or at least severely injured, from the fall so that he died before suffering much of the mauling. I can't imagine what it would have been like to witness that, particularly the boy's family. May this poor child RIP.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Heyheyhey

    Shoulder have started shooting the dogs right away period end of story. No way you can stop a wild animal if it wants to attack you. Zoo keepers should know this stuff. Took an officer to do it right.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • churflap

      Oh yeah, he really saved the day, didn't he?

      November 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. guest

    Horrible, just horrible! His parents planned a day at the zoo, and lost their little boy there. What a nightmare!

    November 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph M

      I'm thinking they must have been nightmare parents.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Redbird

    How did he just fall in an exhibit ?? We just say he fell in... but reality parents are responsible for their childrens safety at all times day or night,,, put the blame where it belongs.

    And,,, a,,,, super hero Josh,,, 11 wild dogs would shred you in an instant....

    November 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Liza

    It makes me so angry to read about these "parents" who abuse and neglect children. There are stories about this on daily basis now.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pittsburgh zoo member

      This mother did not abuse her child–local reports are that she was a loving mother. What she DID do was make a very bad choice in standing her child on the railing in order to better see the wild dogs. And she will regret that choice every day for the rest of her life, I'm sure.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
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