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. Debby

    So, now it's the.animals fault again? Why was a 2 year old put up to sit on the top rail? Mom should Not have done that. 2 year olds wiggle and move around. They don't understand the heights orwhat happens when things fall or drop. Or the danger of being put on a railing. Sorry but mom bears responsibility here. The Zoo and dogs did not put him up there! People have to start taking responsibility for their own actions and mistakes. There are consequences and it's noboby's fault but our own.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • WilliamP1962

      She endangered her child and is directly responsible for causing her child's death. This was not "an accident". She chose to endanger her child. She should be treated as someone who endangered her child and caused her childs death. Save your pity for the child that was killed, the animal that was killed and the people who will now have to pay more to visit the zoo when the Lawsuits are done. It's always someone else's fault to you people.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. MargieM

    Maybe the mother did it intentionally, like she is mentally ill. We know at the minimun she is completely stupid and reckless for even putting him up there!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mommy

    I feel horrible for the family. I am so sorry for their loss. It was a poor decision to have the child over the rail that will haunt that family for the rest of their lives. I'm sure the mother is suffering and I hope she doesn't read the nasty comments. People place their children at risk all the time, every time they go above the speed limit, leave them in the car for "just a minute", not hold their hand across the child lives in a padded bubble. The only appropriate response from people is the expression of condolences to the family..

    November 6, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      well said !

      November 6, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      I don't understand how you can possibly compare all of those examples to exposing your child in a harmful and deadly way to wild animals. These weren't house cats. These were deadly, wild animals. Nobody jumped the railing to save this child because of how deadly they were. Putting your child in situations of risk and completely flat out endangering the welfare of your child in an obviously deadly way is two different things. If you can't comprehand the difference of severity of certain situations then maybe you shouldn't have kids either.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. Pinkflam

    What I want to know is, who painted the dogs, and can you really blame them for being pizzedOff about it?

    November 6, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. Julie

    Those shots fired should have been tranquilizers. A lethal response is unacceptable.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Eddie

      I completely agree. The animal was not at fault here.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Amy

    Being from the Pittsburgh area I can assure you that this Zoo is an amazing place. It is well managed and the animals are treated with the utmost repect. I have been to this exibit many times and never once were my children ever in danger ! This poor mother made a terrible split second decision that she must live with the rest of her life. I do not know this family but my heart is sad for them because as humans we ALL have made bad chices at some point. At any point , any one of us could make a bad decision and it have deadly results ....texting or talking on the cell phone as you drive, turning your back on your child for a mire second or having a drink on your way home from work could result in any number of accidents. This one is just horrific and highly public ,so you see the need to judge this poor family. Being from the Pittsburgh area I can assure you that the Zoo is an AMAZING place. Well managed and maintained.....this was just a HORRIBLE accident. They are called accidents for a reason. Unforseen incidents beyond our control !! Let this poor woman alone !

    November 6, 2012 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      How was this a split-second decision? A "split-second decision" is what you make when you're driving for instance and you have to make a decision very quickly. This was NOT a split-second decision unless it was to let go of the child to grab something she dropped, for example. She had plenty of time to decide to put her child, a 2 year old, fidgety, unpredictable toddler, on top of a railing that he should have been kept behind and she knew it, everybody does. She decided to take that risk and it cost the child their life.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      John...I must have missed the part in the news report that you were present when this happened. I said split second because it only took seconds for her to lose this child over the edge. None of us were there so NONE of us should speculate what happened. When I said split second I was basically saying that anyone's life can change in that short moment of time when something that we could never anticipate going wrong, to go VERY wrong. It happens everyday just not in such horrific ways as this.

      November 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lafoie

    Wow, its too bad for the baby. There is nothing wrong with the dogs, they did what they are supposed to do. They are animals meant to kill to live.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Mama23

      Regardless, they live in a zoo and are cared for by humans so the one that would not leave was clearly guarding his kill – a 'dusted off' instinct that was not just going to turn off once they removed the baby from the exhibit. The zoo authorities made the right choice for the ongoing safety of their animal caretakers, no of course it wasn't the dog's fault but so what – that still doesn't mean his life is worth more than a human's.

      November 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Cynthia

      In the scope of species balance, the dog's life was worth more. Humans are hardly endangered. The dog should have been tranquilized, not killed.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Chris

    There should definately be a criminal investigation involving the mother. Sure, noone thinks she wanted to kill her child because 'I wouldn't do that' – well NEWSFLASH! plenty of psychotic child killers in this world! Its the perfect crime really, noone would suspect such a horrible accident could in fact be murder of the worst kind!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Pitbull friend

    My prayers to the family and responders a child's death is severe trauma. The poor wild dogs acting as the wild animals they are should not be in quarantine.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. Warchief

    Animals are animals. Human life is more important than a few Painted dogs, but all the raving Peta supporters would like to disagree.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Bemused

      Of course, you are aware that humans are animals as well, right?

      November 6, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Cynthia

      Humans are not an endangered species. These dogs are protected from humans, who have all but wiped our their natural habitat, for a reason.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. buffthefoon

    no need to slam the mom..she will have to live with this pain the rest of her life..additionally, what does anybody get from visitng wild animals in prison, let alone a three year old child?

    November 6, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mpa

    A tragic story. I know for sure that I am going to continue to pay attention to safety requests and not place my kids on fences or railing anywhere.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  13. thomas

    except for Dimitriy it is "you are"

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

    A poor child and innocent animal are dead today and the real criminal is the Mother. She should be thrown into same enclosure to expect the same fate. What a dumb, irresponsible idiot!

    November 6, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      I'm sure she is blaming herself.

      November 6, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Harin

      You no doubt have never raised a child or taken an action that you had no idea was unsafe. Your over the top comment would indicate you spend to much time on line and have forgotten how to communicate rationally. While everyone agrees, after the fact, that it was a mistake to place the child on the railing, there is no way you could reasonably believe she did it with the idea that it was deadly dangerous. Even the zoo was aware that parents put children on railings to rest their arms and designed the railing so a child could not fall into the exhibit. Unfortunately, it did not work.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Therealdeal

      And you Jay, have never in a split second done something you shouldn't have with your children? How dare you blame this mother. She will have to live with the nightmare of what she witness for the rest of her life. How many of us haven't lifted our kids up to get a better view? How many of us haven't walked away for "just a second" from the changing table or bath tub? A mother has lost her child in the most horrific way...and witnessed it. Back off you pathetic excuse for a human being.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      It very well is the mother's fault indeed. Mistake or not, you don't knowingly lift your child to stand on the ledge of a wild animal exhibit. That is just stupidity. I am sure she is grieving and will have to live with this, but that is the consequence of putting your child in a dangerous situation. A mother is responsible for ensuring a child's safety and she failed. It isn't the zoo or the dog's fault, but I'm sure they in some way will have to pay for this irresponsible persons actions. Very sad all around. People need to have more common sense.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Therealdeal

      Yes Lauren, it is the mother's fault. What appalls me is the lack of compassion for another human being. She did something very careless that countless others before her have done and her baby is gone. To say that she deserves the same fate is ridiculous but sadly, I'm almost certain she would have traded places in a heartbeat.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Domokun

    It is sad but the mother will have to accept that her actions lead to the death of her own child. It is a tragedy for someone so young to be killed but sadder still that a mother would not stop to think about her own actions which ultimately killed the child.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      You are sick to pointthe figure, You were in her shoes at, and you are not there, wait and see when your child got kill

      November 6, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • james kramer

      absolutely agree – what was this "parent" thinking?

      November 6, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • pgh

      You better subtract a language, then, friend. Oh.... and I invented the Internet, and piloted the Space Shuttle 6 times... and have multiple orgasms.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
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