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. Phil

    All you quacks out there need to shut up and let the poor family mourn their loss. Yes – another senseless tragedy – but why stoop so low and make fun of the poor mother. Prayers go out to this family of this child during this difficult time and also to many of you who post such sad comments. God gave us all free will to do whatever we choose – post included – but we will have to answer for these acts one day. The bible is filled with good and bad stories – drunks, murders, etc. – tragedy happened even back in those days. Take some time and study before making stupid comments. God loves us all and sent his son to die for us ... the least you could do is show some respect. Our great country was founded on God and these beliefs we need him today - more than ever. Prayers go out to all of you (believers or not) and to our great nation. God Bless the USA! and a shout to all who serve! SEMPER FI!

    November 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. gale

    There will always be fools like Kyle. Ignore the less than human thing making such remarks. There is a little child dead and there will be people who are to idiotic to make intelligent remarks.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SARAH

    HOW MANY NRA MEMBERS WHERE WATCHING THIS HORRENDOUS ATTACK AND THEY DIDN'T KILL THE DOGS WITH THEIR GUNS?....ROLLING EYES HERE. IF GUNS CAN NOT SAVE LIVES, THEN GUNS MUST BE FORBIDDEN. PERIOD.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • g0ddesso4o12

      What do guns have to do with this story? an its clearly marked at all zoo's guns are prohibited. So i doubt anyone had one to shoot.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. sympathy

    mut be very lonely person to make such comment do you need attention

    November 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. barfly

    alabama has it, not other team is even close

    November 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Yannick

    The zoo and animals have to suffer because of one bad parent. It's really sad that the zoo has had to design railings IN CASE a parent puts their kid on them and the kid falls. What kind of nonsense is that? Why are parents putting their kids on railings in the first place? The zoo should have everyone who enters their premises sign waivers that say if you do something stupid, like reach over or put someone over a safety fence or railing and they fall in and get mauled, you are solely responsible.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jon

    I see a lot of comments from people that say the zoo is at fault for not putting up a taller chain link fence to keep people out of the exhibit. You are the same people who would whine about not having a clear view of the animals from behind a chain link fence. The death of that child falls squarely on the shoulder of the mother. It was her bad decision and her decision only that led to the death of her child.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mary

    "One dog was killed in the rescue effort..." The police needed to access the scene, but one dog refused to leave, so with the zoo's approval he was killed. The boy had already been dead. Why kill another life? It's not the dogs' fault.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      I know. That makes me sad.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      In all this story THAT makes you sad? OMG !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      You really think they should have just waited til the dog was done eating the baby and not shot it? That is really disgusting and inhuman. I would not want to see the dogs killed as punisment because they are wild animals and that is their nature BUT to let the thing continue to eat the baby? Repulsive.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Americanese

    To the people that just stood around to point fingers, watch, scream, and take pictures. I hope you live with this for the rest of your life wondering what the right thing that you should have done. As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again. If it does, please everyone, spring into action and use the human strength and loud roar that you have to show the strength of humans. I know it is the humans fault to have animals in captivity, but in scenarios like this, the child should have walked out of there with only cuts and bruises. NOT DEATH!!

    November 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      If u were actually ther why did you not jump in considering your remark

      November 5, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    The zoo is not responsible for the lack of common sense in a parent. You do not – REPEAT – you do NOT hold you child up on top of over over a barrier between you and wild animals. She gets to live with what she did. The zoo should not at all be held responsible for her inability to understand what a barrier is for.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Absolutely! I was the mother's fault. How STUPID of her to do that! Now she has her family to answer to, and this horrific incident will haunt her for the rest of her life. Damn idiot!!!

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

      Absolutely! IT was the mother's fault. How STUPID of her to do that! Now she has her family to answer to, and this horrific incident will haunt her for the rest of her life. Damn idiot!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Americanese

    To the people that just stood around to point fingers, watch, scream, and take pictures. I hope you live with this for the rest of your life wondering what the right thing that you should have done. As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again. If it does, please everyone, spring into action and use the human strength and loud roar that you have to show the strength of humans. I know it is the humans fault to have animals in captivity, but in scenarios like this, the child should have walked out of there with only cuts and bruises.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      What? You know what WILD animal means, right? This is a very tragic event, I am sure it was horrific for everyone to watch – you implying everyone got off on watching it seems to be made up. But yeah if only someone as awesome as you were there everything would have been okay.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Really? So now we're blaming bystanders for not jumping in? Please don't do that to people. It's normal to want to lay blame because we're angry over such a horrible thing, but please don't add insult to injury to the mom and to the bystanders with all this nastiness. I would imagine even the bystanders are suffering and second-guessing themselves and wondering if they could have done something. The answer is no. Ask any expert on these animals. From what I understand, this child was gone within mere moments. No one could have done anything.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. b.erwin

    Adults must take care to keep children from danger.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • barb

      How stupid can a parent become? I saw a father have his toddler son sitting on the edge of a shark exhibit over 50 feet of water. Another father had his toddler son sit on the edge of an alligator pit. The sight does not educate the child, nor does the child appreciate the scene. I am disgusted with these parents who put their child in danger in any capacity. Maybe this woman learned something. Hopefully, she does not have any other children. I am sorry she had to learn a lesson with such a sad finality, if she did. Perhaps, mandatory parenting classes in high school would help these ignorant people.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ron

    What a horrific event. The mother will be punished with the guilt of this tragedy every day for the rest of her life.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Yeah, she will. So the comments here from the oh so high and mighty that completely attack her make me wince. I imagine she's gone over the scene a gazillion times in her mind already (or will soon, when she can), and will again and again and again in her nightmares. My heart breaks for her. I'm sad for the zoo as well. THEY are sad, as well. Believe it or not, those people are human, too, and this has hit them hard. I'm sad for the dog that was killed, too. It was just such a horrific, tragic event!

      November 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I concur with Lizamom and Ron. Very well put, guys. I can`t imagine how this mother feels... what a nightmare. Accidents happen, and people make mistakes. On rare occasions, they can be very, very costly. Absolutely heartbreaking just to hear of this, let alone be involved somehow.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. dana

    if the mother put the child on the edge of a tiger's enclosure, everyone would say "why would she do that, tigers would kill anyone who falls inside". But because they were "dogs" somehow it's not perceived as dangerous? I have all sympathy for the family, it is a tragedy, but to do that with a child of any age, is completely irresponsible. It is not the animals' fault, it is the mother's fault: it is an error in judgment that was paid dearly, but it is in no way anybody else's fault and that will be a hard thing to live with.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Earnhardts Therapist

      Once again the ignorance spewn on these comment sections amaze me. At no point did the article say that the mother acted in a negligent way. It simply said that the child fell from the top of the railing, not that the mother put the child up there. accidents are usually just that. do you have any idea how quick a child can go from completely safe to deadly situation? a split second. It's people like you that judge without 1% of the total information. Have some sympathy and common sense before you post, or simply don't post. nobody needs to hear your useless drivel anyway.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      @Earnhardts Therapist–there ARE other news sources out there. Some even have pictures of the platform, and the names of the family. Just because CNN didn't report that the mother placed the child on the railing doesn't mean it isn't known.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  15. Americanese

    To the people that just stood around to point fingers, watch, scream, and take pictures. I hope you live with this for the rest of your life wondering what the right thing that you should have done. As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again. If it does, please everyone, spring into action and use the human strength and loud roar that you have to show the strength of humans. I know it is the humans fault to have animals in captivity, but in scenarios like this, the child should have walked out of there with only cuts and bruises...

    November 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      If u were there y did u not jump in? considering your comment i wondered

      November 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Please tell us what you would have done in that situation...Easy to play hero after the fact.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      i just read al your blogs u were not there what an idiot looking for attention

      November 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      I would have jumped in, you idiot. Why would I make such statement, if I am not able to do it. I talk, but also do the walking. And no I was not there, but if I was, I would be the first to jump in. I see people on the road who always need a helping hand, as in someones car out of gas or just ceased, I always seem to be the one to stop and help push. So, why question me again? Trust me, I would not hesitate.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      Only cowards like you, and the ones that stood around let the child get mauled to his death.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Theres a big difference between helping out with gas, and jumping into a situation with 11 wild animals...The fact that your saying you would of jumped in no hesitation, yea I find that pretty hard to believe. Oh wait I'm sorry, your a hero and your awesome...is that what you were looking for?

      November 5, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • I believe you Americanese

      I am an immigrant and I do believe that you would have tried to help. I have been helped by strangers in this country more than anywhere else. This is a great country and it is the way it is because there are courageous people who help and sacrifice. Having said that, I was thinking is I would jump in myself, it would depend if there was any chance that I could make the difference and had access to some sort of weapon to defend against them. These african dogs and hyenas are killing machines.

      I think these dogs should be put down and the cage closed permanently out of respect for the little child.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • twalk

      since you were there do u spring into action?? Didn't hear about an adult jumping into the enclosure to save the child.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      There are weapons every where. Bottles, child's stroller, your fist, sticks in the dog area, ice cream cones, food, a grown man or woman, many many things are weapons. People should tossed these at the animals, screamed, do whatever. And yes, I would jump in there. I see many Americans doing so many courageous things, but why not for this? PLEASE DO NOT STAND AROUND AND NOT DO THE RIGHT THING!! I've faced bullets and stood my ground to fire back at an unknown enemy. So don't question about courage.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I feel the same way Americanese. This is the 3rd article I have read about this story. Even if it wasn't my child, I would have jumped in, let alone if it was my child. I understand your comment and your frustration.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      the witnesses showed up only after the mother screamed for help by the time zookeepers arrived which was seconds it was to late.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Americanese

      Yes it would have mattered if people were to jump in as soon as the child fell in. We humans can coordinate. There were only 11 dogs!! I wonder how many people were around that could have jumped in, toss something, threw a child's cart? If at least 5 grown Americans would have jumped in, they would have scared these dogs to death making all sorts of crazy courageous noises. Well, you all would not know. Good thing it was not a child that you knew. I didn't know this child, but I wished I was there. He would have survived. REMEMBER WHY YOU ARE AN AMERICAN!! I am a first generation American and proud to know what an American is by heart. I would have done the AMERICAN THING as other third world countries would say. I guess many Americans forgot what it is to be an American, that is why other countries have hatred towards us. Good day...

      November 6, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      Americanese

      I would have jumped in, you idiot. Why would I make such statement, if I am not able to do it. I talk, but also do the walking. And no I was not there, but if I was, I would be the first to jump in. So, why question me again? Trust me, I would not hesitate.

      November 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
      **********************

      I'm wondering why you'd say you were there, as well....and you were being questioned because you have stated, REPEATEDLY, that you were.....

      **************************
      Americanese "....As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again...."
      November 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse | Reply
      *****************************************
      Americanese "... As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again...."
      November 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
      ****************************************
      Americanese "...As a HUMAN and as a person who was actually there!! I hope this does not happen again...."
      November 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
      ***************************************

      November 6, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
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