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. knowall

    This mother should be fed to the same dogs. The pavillion is about 6 feet from the ground. Any sane, loving parent would have been over that rail and protecting their child just as fast as the child fell. Some people should not be allowed to have kids. And this is a perfect example. Death to stupid, trashy people of the world.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Frank

    i hope nothing happens to the dogs

    November 6, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gina BonBon

      AGREED!! it's not the dogs' fault in the least! i'm sure the mother feels horrible beyond imagination, but it is still her fault, NOT the dogs'!!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gryla2

    Well it's a good thing the dogs had all had their rabies shots! At least we can rule that out as the cause of death!

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kathy

      Funny, not funny haha, but i was just thinking..ok how did this rabies test contribute to anything...

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

    This zoo has equally dangerous viewing locations for the bears, the piranha and other animals. The mom was foolish with her child's life, but the zoo simply must address these safety conditions. The bear enclosure has a black chain link fence about waist high on an adult with a forty foot drop. The bear would not kill a person, but the fall would. The lion enclosure also has a similar viewing area to the one with the African Dogs. I doubt that the lions could get to a child, but surely the drop into the water beneath would kill a child. They have to tighten this up.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Losuca

      MOM, the chain link fence is there to keep people out. the moat is there to keep the bears in!!! Don't climb over the fence and you won't fall in!!!

      November 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AtlMom

    A stupid, stupid lapse in judgment by the mother, which will haunt her every minute for the rest of her life. It's not the dogs' fault, not the zoo's fault, and not the 2 year old's fault. As the mother of a 2 years old, I can tell you my life would be over if I were in this mother's shoes. I would not be able to live with myself.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fenoglio

    wonder why they killed the dog that wouldn't leave instead of using a tranquilizing gun? this is such a tragic situation.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • PS

      So true, tranquilizers should have been used to at least spare one of these two deaths.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Veronica

    I feel sorry for the boy and the dogs. The mother is an idiot and should be feed to the dogs. What person in their right mind puts their child in danger. She placed him on the rail.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NeuhRosa

    You guys.. this mom just lost her baby, is it really necessary to call her a moron? Have you guys not seen many other mothers with their child sitting on the railing?? This was just a very unlucky case. It wasn't anyones fault, accidents happen.
    I also think it's pretty extreme to kill the dogs for this. Didn't they just react the way they naturally would? How can we take animals from the wild, breed them, throw them meat for their meals everyday, and then kill them because they didn't know that what was in their cage this time wasn't supposed to be eaten???

    November 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • PS

      Totally agree. These dogs did nothing wrong. They aren't supposed to be caged up to begin with, so if anything, a serious wrong has been done against them. That kid was merely another meal that has probably been given to them in just such a manner time and again. You can't blame them for doing what they do.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Momto2

    This mother had a serious and unfortunate lapse of judgement here. There is a reason there are barriers installed between animals and people at the zoo. I don't understand why people feel the need to try to get closer or whatever it is and climb over/on the barriers. Abd then seem surprised when they fall in or get attacked. Truly tragic and 100% preventable. Dumb.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mother

    $20 says the mother sues the zoo, when in actuality the zoo should sue the mother for the dog having to be put under. I mean, who puts their 2 year-old on a ledge above wild animals?

    November 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kathy

      nope wont' be betting against that......I'm sure she will try...

      November 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Momowom

    My God – let's try to keep a perspective here. Regardless of how it happened, a two year old child died a horrible death. There is absolutely no reason to believe that it was intentional on anyone's part, and this poor woman will live the rest of her life with that indescribable image in her mind. This family has my heartfelt sympathy.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dawg

    Damn, poor kid

    November 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    I blame the movie "Anchorman". If Veronica hadn't fallen into that bear enclosure and be rescued in such a comical way, that mother would not have had the audacity to set her baby on such a dangerous rail. Damn you, Ron Burgundy!!!

    November 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • RB

      Stay classy San Diego.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Raydog2u

    I hope that these parent/s become examples to other idiots of what not to do with your your kids...the animals are doing what they are meant to do...don't even get mad at's not they fault the food came to them from above...may the child RIP...

    November 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. william kastens

    Yes, this mother is going to live with this the rest of her life, and so she should. There is no excuse for the judgement call she made. And yes, if that were my child I would have been in there trying to save my baby. What a needed waste of life.
    They should have tranquilized the remaining dog.

    November 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • larry5

      No one could have saved the infant by jumping into the enclosure. They would have been attacked by the same dogs. These are not like domestic dogs. They are very strong and very good at attacking and killing animals even very large animals like buffalo and zebra. The work together and are very efficient. They reactions are so much quicker than humans there's no way to fight them.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • nwvintage

      I've seen a lot of people say that the mother should have jumped in after the child, but we have no idea if she had other children or not. Nothing has been said one way or the other, that I've seen. If the mother did have other children, surely it was better for them not to lose their mother and brother in the same day.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Megan

      It is the job of the Zoe to protect all little visitors. Better fences would have protect the little boy from slipping into the pen. The zoo should take responsibility for not creating a fail-proof system. As for the mother, She will pay for the rest of her life, for sure. But she is not the only responsible party.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lorraine H.

      I agree that the last dog should have been tranquilized as that is something common that they have on hand at zoo's.
      Horrible ending for the child but zoo's and life in general cannot be 100% safe from people themselves!

      November 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Catherine

      Unfortunately tranqs take a few minutes to work. Police needed to be in there NOW. There is not animmediate tranq that wouldn't kill the animal anyway. The decision wouldn't have had to have been made anyway if the mother (and nearby adults) were keeping an eye on the child...You can't tell me no adults saw this begin to happen.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • norcal

      What a bunch of crap. The "zoo" has some responsibility?? Are you freaking kidding me? Liberal socialistic assinine jerks. The Gov may pay for your food and rent, but as of yet, they don't "totallly" tell you not to put your child IN HARMS WAY. Geezus.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
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