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. Beth

    I think some are being too harsh with the mum. If she had thrown the child to the dogs, that would be one thing. A two-year-old can be a handful and all it takes is for her to look away for a second and he s falling down the side. We don't know the story, but consider that this mum is regretting more deeply you can imagine her mistake. The unthinkable has happened. Give her a break... Give her compassion!

    November 6, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. fabio

    This is a very sad story! I feel for the mother, the child, and the animal. I am sure she wishes she would had left the child in her arms vs putting the baby on the railing and she will have to live with that for the rest of her life. I hope she is able to cope with the aftermath and as for the zoo I don't think they are at fault given the information in this article. But at the end of the day the mother is responsible for the safety of her baby.

    November 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Liz

    R.I.P., little one.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nick

    This is ALL the mother"s fault. She should be charged with murder. She deserves to go to prison. People like her don't deserve to have children. The Police need to investigate if the mother was at all resentful of her child or depressed or felt incapable of being a good mother. Some women will kill their child rather than admit incompetence and failure and agree to surrender the child to a care agency. THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS in these kinds of cases. It's always a case of malice. This woman meant to kill her child and get away with it and she will. Too bad.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • some

      Or some women are just plain dumb

      November 7, 2012 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Spenny Spen

      I agree, what kind of scatter brained parent allows their child to climb on and subsequently fall into an exhibit of dangerous wolf dogs at a zoo, like where the hell was she? Smoking her meth pipe behind the monkey enclosure? I have no sympathy for her, its just sad a child AND an endangered animal had to die because of her negligence. Candidate for Mother of the Year award, now send 'er to Nancy Grace for the "treatment" muahahaha

      November 7, 2012 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
    • annebeth

      I agree that this was ALL the mothers fault and I wonder if maybe there is an insurance policy on the child for "accidental" death. I bet the mother wants that money and wants to sue the zoo for negligence. Susan Smith & Andrea Yates are kicking themselves for not using the idea of "Why didn't I think of going to the zoo?"

      November 7, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamine

      Were you people there? Did you see what happened? Do you have no sympathy in your dark troll hearts for this family that just lost a child in a devastating way? For gods sake show some sympathy!

      November 7, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Elivaa

      Parents think their chilrdren are all snowflakes and deserve the best of everything. If the doggies don't come out to play for my snowflake, I'll hold my kid in the air to see them. If that doesn't work, stand him on a rail. If that doesn't work... ooops. She probably just wanted the best for her child. Unfortunately, that involved sacrificing safety.

      November 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rechechere

      Agreed! She hoisted that kid up onto the railing with the clear intention of pushing him over into the enclosure. I hope someone witnessed her actions and will testify to that effect. What a horrible human being.....

      November 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Raini

    What does that matter? It doesn't.

    November 7, 2012 at 2:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Raandy

    What a horrific disaster, yes, I agree the mother did not use good judgement but who can say they always have. My heart goes out to the family.
    The mother will live this until she dies, sad.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Daniela

    I live in Pgh and those wild dogs have always given me the creeps. I could never even pass by the exhibit Please pray (if you can or do) for the parents and family and do not use this time to judge. I think you can agree that there is no tragedy out in the world as hard as this one and the family really needs support, not hateful comments.

    I am a mom and live in the same community as these folks (do not know them)...we all have very heavy hearts as it could have happened to any of our kids. I beg you to pray...they need the strength to endure the days ahead of them until they are reunited with their only son.

    November 7, 2012 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
    • t2vodka

      Could have happened to any of our kids? Are you kidding me? I went to the zoo tons of times with my parents, and guess what, if I needed a better view, they held me up, they did not put me on the bars, or dangle me over the side. No, this could only happen to children with parents who were not watching, or are just plain stupid. Sorry, the only sympathy I have here is for the child and for the dead dog.

      November 7, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • DanielaisaDolt

      You are not at all bright or perceptive. The mother placed the child on the railing and subsequently pushed him over into the enclosure. Go ahead and pray – you're the typical cretin who hangs onto religion (and guns) – and see if anything changes. Please don't post any more replies – you're an embarassment to the Pgh area and your family.

      November 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • iheartyou

      Daniela – I believe you meant your comment in a kind and compassionate way. But, no, this could NOT have happened to any of our kids. This mother was irresponsible and,well, just plain stupid. I do feel sorry for the family, and can even muster up a tiny bit of sadness for the mother because she will definitely have to live with this for the rest of her existence. But I agree wholeheartedly with t2vodka - my heart breaks for the child, the other family members, and the dead dog. That mother is at the bottom of my sympathy list.

      November 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Grey

    The zoo did everything that was reasonable. Sadly, there is no IQ requirement for having and/or raising children. You simply can't let go of your kids when in public settings, be it wild animals or wild humans.

    November 7, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. JKA

    This is a sad event that should never have happened. People forget that they are viewing wild animals. The mother had no business propping her baby up on a exhibit rail, that is plain stupid. The blame is 100% on her shoulders. Why didn't she jump in to try to save the baby, I would have died trying to save my baby.

    November 7, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. JKA

    What does that matter, the baby is dead. Thats what matters and it should not have happened.

    November 7, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Karen

    Stop trying to blame the the Zoo. I feel sorry for the Mother, she will have to live with what she did for the rest of her life but the simple truth is that she caused the death of her child.

    November 7, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Betty

    You can argue about whether or not you would have jumped in to help your child, but I think it's safe to say that the kind of parent who'd pull out all the stops to protect their child is materially different from the kind of parent who would carelessly balance their child on a no-step safety bar at an exhibit of wild carnivore pack animals. Even if there's a grey area of people who might hold their child up for a better look, there are parents who would be certain they had complete control and there are "parents" who don't think of consequences (such as how are you going to handle it in the "unlikely event" that your todler should happen to squirm unexpectedly?). It's been many years since my kids were litle, but I still remember the mental stress of being on-guard for their safety at all times. Could we please have a generation of rising adults who don't act like every day of their entire lives has to be Spring Break?

    November 7, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  13. caroline

    Tazor guns wouldn't stop the dogs? Just heart breaking.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. caroline

    Wondering if staff at the zoo should start carrying stun guns for these animals? Very sad story.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. caroline

    Is the mother illiterate...surely there were warning signs....

    November 7, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      Seriously Caroline? What does illiterate have to do with common sense? I didn't know you had to read a sign to know that you don't place your child on a top of a bar separating you from wild semi-controlled animals. Why wasn't the mother holding on to her child when she senselessly placed the child on the bar? The sad part about all of this is not just the child having died from this incident, but that some lawyer respresenting the mother will sue the Zoo and get some outrageous settlement for her, the one who was so exceedingly asinine to do what she did in the first place.

      November 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
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