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. Mandi

    What a sad and terrible situation for all involved. That mother has to live with that terrible decision she made putting the child on the rail. And the zoo personal that care for those animals and had to react to the situation. Finally, all the families that had to witness that horrible event. This is a lose-lose for everyone. I hope that mom does some soul searching and does not sue the zoo for negligence, if anything she was the one that was so.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Keyser soze

    Blame the dogs..

    November 6, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • pgh

      That is always what stupid humans do. Blame the pitbull. Blame the African spotted dog zoo animal. Blame the German Shepherd. Dogs don't kill people: Stupid people kill people.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Robin

      Yes it is very sad that a child lost a life. But what the hell was this mother thinking? Sorry but she put her child in danger, why not just dangle the kid over the edge. The dogs should not be killed but parents need to use there heads. This was no ones fault but the mothers and she has to live with it. The dogs were caged you don;t put a kid on the railing unless you are just stupid

      November 6, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    I feel bad for the loss of life but not for the mother. People like her are simply unfit parents. There are stories in the news of such things happening multiple times a year. Most zoos have signs prohibiting such behavior but they in their foolish arrogance choose to ignore them thinking they know better. The protection should be for the sake of the animals not the humans. As supposedly higher beings we should know better then to endanger our young in such foolish ways. I hope she doesn't have any other children and if she does they should be taken away.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      U are not there, base on wha you read, you already bad mouth the are a sick one

      November 6, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Jaime

      @OMG....Having a realistic judgment on the situation isn't sick, it's how lessons are learned from others. Grow up.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      You were not there, how can you make realistic judgement? You are assume

      November 6, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • charles

      dear OMG .... why cant i understand anything u type?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DCBuck

    There's rarely a good protection against dumb parents. However, I would not be surprised in the least if some vulture lawyer doesn't try to shake the zoo down.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mother of toddler

    I am stunned at how cruel people are being to this child's mother. Yes, she obviously made a very poor decision but parents do things like this all the time. She probably unwisely and naively believed that the zoo had a "fool-proof" system in place. I have a one and a half year old and I am a loving and attentive mother. I do my best but I am sure that I make mistakes all the time. In this case, the mother's mistake lead to one of those "one in a million" scenarios that ended in horrific tragedy. It could've happened to anyone. Please, everyone, stop being so cruel and if you pray, pray for everyone involved. I couldn't sleep last night thinking about this poor baby and this poor woman.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • pgh

      'Parents do things like this all the time' Yes, more evidence that a license should be required to parent. Morons shouldn't procreate.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Mother of 2

      A mistake is letting your kid eat too much candy before bed time, what she did was downright dangerous. I have taken my children to countless zoos and theme parks and have never felt it was safe to hoist my child up on anything that could even remotely put them in harm’s way. Too many children are dying form parental “mistakes” when is it going to stop? It will stop when they are being held accountable. Whether or not she “meant” for it to happen she put her child’s life at risk and as a mother I don’t see how she could not have seen the danger in her actions before she did them.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Stamps

      When I pray, I ask Jesus how he expects me to love him when he willfully murders little babies 🙁

      November 6, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  6. terry riley

    Why would a mother put her 2 year old on a railing & let go of him (one article said he lost his balance)? She should be charged with something!

    November 6, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. Leo818

    The loss of the child is tragic, the loss of the dog is just that – only the loss of a dog. As for the mother, she will punish herself more than anyone else ever could. The number of times she will see that horrid scene in her memory and in her dreams will torment her for the rest of her life, and her memory will not put her on parole.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. pgh

    The mother was said to be dangling the child over the fence. In our office yesterday while discussing seeing it in the local news, we called that PULLING A MICHAEL JACKSON. (Remember he dangled the baby off the building rail multiple stories up?). Yes it was a terrible tragedy, but it's a shame that the child had to suffer instead of the perpetrator for this particular Darwin Award. The zoo should be held absolutely blameless and shouldn't have to be forced by lawyers to build fortress fencing to obstruct our view of the animals.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      I feel sorry for your kids. Sounds like you are abuse parent.......

      November 6, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. OMG

    Sick, sick and sick people comments on here, You don't know the mother. You were not there, YOu just read this article and startng blame on the mother, and call her name, you are sicker the her, No analyzing and thinking skill. Gossip all day

    November 6, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • pgh

      The mother should be charged with risking a catastrophe and negligence involving a minor.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • bike

      OMG .... i think we all have lost IQ points from reading your posts

      November 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. OMG

    People on here scare the hell out of me, They just read the article like this, and starting nasty comments. They were not there when it happened, or know the person..........People on here put people to death just base on fiction. SICK

    November 6, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Robin

      So you are one of the parents who blame everything on someone or something else. Do you hang your kid over a tank of sharks and drop them in and blame the sharks. Sorry but this was just plain stupid and there is no defending stupid. Sad but stupid.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  11. letstalk99

    put up a's not rocket science. A very sad situation, but one that could be avoided in the future

    November 6, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Robin

      Yes put up a fence for stupid people who think it is okay to put a 2 year old on a railing, how does a kid lose there balance if the mother would have been holding them. They don't the mother was not holding on so who is responsible, not the zoo they have signs up. The mother is solely responsible, sadly. Very sad but put the blame on the person responsible. Amazing how you are all defending her and blaming everyone for saying it like it is. Parents take responsibility for your kids don't expect others to do it for you.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. Gr8Dane

    Remove the zoo exhibit and replace it with a windowsill. Imagine a parent hoisting the child so he can sit/stand/balance/whatever on that windowsill. The child falls and dies. Negligence charges are filed immediately I'm sure. How is that scenario different from the zoo?

    November 6, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Exactly. It's the parent's actions that need to be examined regardless of what happened after the child fell.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ray Towers

    Why is everyone blaming the zoo, the idiot and irresponsible mother should be behind bars and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. poor dogs

    Another darwin award given out; and a dog had to pay the price. Tragic day for the African painted dogs

    November 6, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Robin

      I agree gee it says wild dogs I think I will put my kid on the railing. DUH

      November 6, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. blanka

    What if she did it on purpose ??? How else can you explain such a stupid act ??? I mean, why wasn't she holding on tightly to that child? This story is just beyond baffling...

    November 6, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Walter N

      Very good point. She very well may have done it on purpose. Who would be so careless with their own small child?

      November 6, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
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