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. Me

    According to other reports the mom actually lifted the child over that rail so he could see the dogs better. I don't see how it could be anybody'd fault but her's. What exactly do you expect wild animals to do if a person falls into their habitat.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    Clearly this mother is just too stupid to care for a human baby. Too bad she did not jump in as well

    November 7, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jude

    It's sad that a dog was killed because humans were being stupid.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. KatrinaB

    Such a sad story however why would any mother would place her child on top of rail ...DUH ... don't people think anymore these days. However she will have live with it for the rest of her life which I hope she learned something.

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

    I saw this on the News on TV and they showed a computerized depiction of how the child 'got over the railing' and here's the kicker: he didn't. The mother actually lifted him up so he was standing on the top railing of the exhibit (probably for a better look) and she simply did not hold onto him. The depiction made it seem like she let go of him for a second thinking he could magically balance himself on this top railing. It is 100% the mother's fault unfortunately.

    November 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • anna

      Was it an accident or deliberate????

      November 7, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • i

      i was there

      November 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • char

      To Anna and others who may be inclined to ask such questions: (or be insulting)
      Have a heart!!! Not many people- unless you are the mind of a serial killer-NEVER would put their beloved child in harm's way, and especially like this.! Come on!!!!!!! This is so tragic!!!! My heart bleeds so badly for the mother, the family, anyone who saw this, anyone who knows the toddler, and the staff at the zoo. So sorry!!!!!!

      November 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      she did not put him on the railing makes me angry that the news would report that...considering they did not show her trying t jump the railing and the onlookers holding her back

      November 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. WHY?

    Yeah i can ask the same question everyone else has...why put you 2 year old up on the rail....but i got antoher one...
    Why have 11 dogs in one exhibit? Doesnt that seem to be too many? Its a PIT....not a open sancutary...hmmm

    November 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angelica

      They are pack animals. Depending on the species a pack can consistent of 3 or up to 20-30 animals. The zoo is home for them and when we choose to visit we need to remember to be respectful and aware...nothing is or will ever be full proof. No offense but the kid was toast soon as the pack made the decision to attack.

      November 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Keel Hauler

    I still say that an armed person MIGHT have been able to help, despite the opinions of "expert" anti-gun dolts who claim that a person with a handgun would just shoot himself in the leg or turn on the crowd and blast them for no logical reason. There's also no lack of wildlife experts here either who all seem to know exactly what a pack of dogs would do if an adult human or 3 jumped into their midst and started kicking the krap out of them. Maybe the noise alone from a gunshot or two would have scared away the dogs. Whatever happened, it would sure be better than what WAS done to help the kid, namely NOTHING!

    November 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • BB7212

      Start shooting at a pack of dogs mauling a child, I guess that's a more humane way of putting down the kid.

      November 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Hell yes Keel Hauler. Like you said. The sound alone might have scared them. And to BB7212 you're lame. Take your best shots away from the kid. Better trying something instead of just watching.

      November 8, 2012 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. kamas

    I have learn several just right stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much attempt you place to make one of these wonderful informative web site.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |

    I'm a mother of five and never would I consider trying to balance my child on a railing with wild animals on the other side. This is just plain stupidity on the mother's part and the responsibility of this horrible act lies directly on her and no one else. This talk of blaming the Zoo is insane, no way is the zoo responsible for the mother's behavior. The sad thing about all of this is the animals behaved as animals do, the mother's behavior was not that of a protective mother. She should be charged with criminal child endangerment/neglect/homicide or something, just because she is sad and brokenhearted she should not be allowed to walk away from this.

    November 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      the news that is being reported is not true she did not put Maddox on the railing...And while the news is reporting ...why are they not telling everyone that this woman DID!!!!! try to jump the railing but the on lookers held her all ou people with your mean comments keep them to yoursef you do not know what only know what the news reports

      November 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chelley

    Many in our society have become so "civilized" they forget there is a natural, violent world out there. The mother was not thinking clearly, it probably never occurred to her the child would fall and so it is now gone. I sympathize with her if she cared for that child, but it was a DUMB thing to do. That is why so many people die in car wrecks every year. People do DUMB THINGS.

    I certainly hope it wasn't deliberate, and if it was, I hope wild dogs catch her on the street someday and rip her flesh off so she knows what the child felt.

    People need to be aware of their surroundings, wake up and pay attention. Society is so protective of people they sometimes lose their sense of the danger around them. Then things like this happen.
    Sad, very sad.

    November 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. sympathy

    people were holding her back .....she tried to jump over

    November 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. plumbc dirigible

    in 1986 a five year old boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at jersy zoo. How? His father placed him on top of the barrier wall. That kid lived because the lead gorilla didn't see him as a threat. otherwise it would have ended badly I'm sure. But you see the theme here. This was an avoidable tragedy which only makes it worse.

    November 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shauna

    The dog never should have been shot and killed. It felt threatened and scared. Might I add that they were at a zoo with trained staff and I would assume some tranquilizers. Why didn't they use them? And why isn't anyone paying attention to that fact? Just like people are saying it wasn't the child's choice to be put on that railing and as a result die, well, it wasn't the dog's choice to be caged up and be shot and killed for feeling too scared to leave the area. The zoo is at fault for that and they should be ashamed. My heart does goes out to the mother because whether she put the kid on the railing or not, tried to do a balancing act with him, or maybe just lost her grip, she still lost a child. But still, the zoo should be held liable for not finding an alternative way to get the dog out of the area.

    November 7, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      the tranqulizers did not affect the dogs...SHE DID NOT PUT THE BABY ON THE RAILING...that is what the news is reporting NOT THE TRUTH..they have not interviewed the family yet.

      November 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lagos

      How do you magically know more about the situation than anybody else, sympathy? You keep telling everyone they're wrong without giving any reason why anybody should take you seriously.

      November 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      dearest friend and family

      November 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      lagos the family has not even given statement yet but evryone knows what happen???today on the radio aman called into say he was there and that zoo keeper who tried to sadatiate the dog came in on crutches and keep droping one. he said people stopped liz from going over he said dogs attacked immmediatly and that it took zoo offical several minutes to get's a large zoo. know ones blaming the dogs they feed by throwing dead deer over the fence to fed them how could the dogs know the differance

      November 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cam

    A couple of things to consider... People sometimes suffer lapses in judgement. Sometimes these lapses have horrible consequences. This may have been the one and only time this mother made such a serious mistake. On the other hand, you don't have to pass a test to have children. Society stands by frequently watching children suffer simply because their parents aren't very good at parenting. For the most part, an adult has to repeatedly demonstrate they are neglectful or abusive before it's determined that you aren't allowed to keep your children. Sadly, I fear that the result of this incident will be that the zoo posts a sign (or a bigger sign) reminding parents not to put their kids up on the railing. This may sound ridiculous but remember that we now have a warning on coffee cups reminding us that the hot coffee is hot. There WILL be a discussion of why the zoo allowed such an "inherently dangerous" situation to exist. The reality of this situation is that if indeed, my first assumption is correct; that this mother simply made a horrible lapse in judgement. Will she simply admit that this tragedy occurred because of a mistake she made or is it easier emotionally to lash out at the zoo for "not keeping her child safe."

    November 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Char

    The zoo should have had a secure net that was for more than cameras and garbage. It was known that people would hold their kids up on the rails and staff would have to tell them not to do it. Ultimately the zoo staff had the knowledge and expertise about these animals and knew how dangerous they were. They also knew people were breaking the rules while trying to get their children a better view. The mom was at fault but she is also not an expert on these animals or had direct knowledge on the failures of this exhibit and the joke of a safety net it had. She was only trying to get her little boy that wore glasses a better view of the animals. She messed up but so did the zoo. Zoos need to take action from this horrific incident and do a better job protecting its young visitors. A rail above dangerous animals that allow kids to be propped up on with no real safety net is careless. Especially when it was a known issue.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      You don't have to be an expert to know that there are wild animals in zoos and that its not a good idea to stand your child on top of the railing. If he needed a better veiw, she should have held him in her arms, instead of standing him on a railing. It's not the zoos fault that people make stupid decisions.

      November 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
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