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. Eric

    She should be charged with murder. If I was unhappy with my wife and threw her over the fence into a den of dangerous animals and she was subsequently killed by those animals then I would expect murder charges. Perhaps her child was getting on her nerves that day and instead of "shaking her baby" she placed the child in a precarious situation intentionally. No you say? Prove it!

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

      Eric get the facts before u comment...I pray u or your wife never make a far a charging her ...WHAT FOR !!!she died the day her son did!!!!!

      November 7, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mother with a Heart

    Some of you making rude comments should be the ones kept in cages at the Zoo, u r acting like wild animals, where is your heart. What ifs dont matter now, let this boy rest in peace and wish that the family can somehow get some peace too : '(

    November 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sympathy

    PEOPLE>>>she did not put Maddox on the railing...that is what the news is reporting ...not the is to distraut they haven't talk to anyone yet.

    November 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • PJ

      It SHOULD have been the mother Sympathy

      November 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      she wishes it was

      November 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TraxWalker

    I'm sorry for the mother and the family for their loss, but having sympathy for them doesn't absolve the mother from the responsibility for the child's death. I've seen parents at zoos do things with their children that horrify me - most commonly I've seen parents raise their children up over barriers to let them better see the animals. They think they're enhancing their child's zoo experience. Luckily for them, their child didn't suffer the same fate as did the poor child who fell. Should the mother, who is without a doubt responsible for her child's death, be punished? I think she has already been sentenced to a lifetime of self-recrimination. How can she ever forgive herself? I know I couldn't.

    November 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nick Bowman

    I wish I'd been there. I know I would have jumped in and attacked the dogs. At least it would have taken their attention from the boy. I think any of my friends would have done the same. The dogs only weigh 40-80 pounds – that's about the same as my 6-year old girl. I think an adult male human acting aggressively could have saved that child's life. Emergency medicine is amazing. I'd bet that the dogs would not have prevailed. Wish I'd been there... God Bless.

    November 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      to bad there weren't any such he-men there at the time such as you. only the mom tried to jump in....the people grabbed her and held her back....because it was toDANGEROUS even the zoo keepers would not go in. only a parent would and that is what she tried to do. Why did the news not report that?????

      November 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. San Diego

    The mother is totally to blame and should be rightfully charged. The zoo had no fault in this. Who in their right mind; especially a mother with a two year child would have them on a railing?! That in itself no matter whether dogs are present or not is absolutely, postively, without-a-doubt, dangerous. Clearly the mother had the baby on the railing. The baby didn't just jump over! Some, actually, most people shouldn't breed...

    November 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bo

      Most definitely the mothers fault. She should be held accountable, or branded as plain stupid. There is no one else here to blame, except her.

      November 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • bibleverse1

      Parents make mistakes. It is tragic. It is so sad the boy died but no real crime has been committed.

      November 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. upset pittsburgher

    I'm sorry but the fact that someone set up a fund for the family is very outrageous to me. Over $15k donated to them, and more to come....How is it that this world is filled with so many morons that would give money to a murderer. Which is essentially exactly what she is and should be charged accordingly. Yes this is a terrible tragedy for the baby and the dog. Both lost their lives and both were innocent.

    November 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      if you are from pitts listen to kdka in the morn. witnesses have been telling what really happened...very interesting!!! the truth comes out and statement made make more sense.

      November 8, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • True Story

      It's quite genius if you think about it. Decide you don't want your kid anymore? Oops, they accidentally fell into an animal enclosure. We are sad; please send us money.

      First off, I would not be that irresponsible to put my child on a railing with an open area to a wild animal exhibit. Second, professional opinion or not, I would have jumped in after my child. Anything I could have possibly done to save my child instead of sitting back and watching them be mauled to death. If I died protecting them, well that it is what a parent should do; protect their child.

      Sadly, a child and an animal died from one woman's irresponsibility.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. Cindy

    1. CLOSE all Zoo's and Aquariums – I'm sorry to say that this is one more consecuence to confining innocent animals into a certian space to exhibit them for $$.

    2. These are wild animals, we not only have NO RESPECT for them, yet we continue to invade their space.

    3. I do not agree with this family geting a fund set up for them. I'm sorry for the loss, yet I am also very mad at the irresponsable actions of this mother, she is just one of many that should not be permitted to have a life depend on her.

    4. An innocent baby, an innocent animal lost their lives ..... and the person responsable ..... gets money .....

    5. I wonder if she would dare file a lawsuite ? Lawyers are allready leaving their cards .... truly dissapointing .....

    November 8, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      the person who set up the fund does not even know the family. the family nor friends had anything to do with it just saying

      November 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Travvie


    Ultimately this is the fault of the mother. No she did not "mean" to do this, but come on, common sense.

    I really hope that the family does not try to sue the zoo or have these wild animut down as it was NOT their fault.

    I am sure the poor (and yeah stupid) woman is beating herself up.. hard to see if she would be charged for negligence. However...IF the family tries to sue, I hope the Zoo countersues them and wins

    as for the "fund"? why and who?? sounds fishy to me. Common sense is not common any more JMO

    November 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fund Answer

      A daycare worker set up a paypal account and then the family set up a citizens bank account that people can donate money to. They have raised over $15,000 for the funeral that they ended up getting for free from the pastor/funeral director people. Plus they are having multiple fundraising spaghetti dinners for them. It just goes to show you that you can essentially murder your child and people will pay you.

      November 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      FUND RAISER...that's alie how dare you tell people these lies!!!!!! they do not know the woman that set uo the account!!!
      The funeral director DID NOT pay for the funeral!!! they do not have ANY dinners!!!!!! WHY would you tell such lies!!!
      SHAME on you !!!!! and god forgive you

      November 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fund Answer

      They are having a spaghetti dinner to raise more money and they set up an account at a local bank that you have to give money as a gift, not even as a charitable donation. Seems pretty ridiculous to me.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • haland

      Sympathy, where are you getting your information? Why has this top secret information that you presume to have been communicated to the public or Pgh Police. I watched the press conference given by the Pgh Police.

      From the police report: The boy's 34-year-old mother placed the child in a standing position on a wooden railing overlooking the enclosure.

      "Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the actual pit and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs," Lt. Kraus said.

      November 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      its not top secret it's what a witness has reported.

      November 14, 2012 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. Amanda

    While normally I would say the parent is to blame....This will not change anything. It is inappropriate of us to pass judgement on the mother as she is probably already blaming herself. This family learned the hard way and do not need us bashing them for their mistakes.

    November 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. heather

    Putting the boy on the railing was really a tragic mistake, but the exhibit design seems inadequate with no secondary safety feature, like some sort of catch landing (not just a net for objects) or a moat to protect someone from either a fall or the animals in the exhibit. Alternatively, a glass enclosure might do the job. This poor mom had a lapse in judgement, but it isn't inconceivable that someone could accidentally fall in (the elderly, someone struck with sudden illness like a heart attack or seizure, ...). Would this design have been acceptable if there were tigers or lions below? Perhaps the zoo officials had under-estimated the danger of these wild dogs. I hope this will result in all zoos taking another look at their exhibit designs and if necessary, add in secondary safety feature that is both effective while not compromising public enjoyment. It can and has been done.

    In the mean time, let's have some compassion for this mom who must live with the biggest regret of her life. Surely we all have made mistakes in some ways that thankfully were not met with such tragic outcomes. In the end, prosecuting the mom or suing the zoo is equally pointless so hopefully neither will happen.

    November 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Heather, it was stated she held her child over the railings at several exhibits and was told several times by personnel not to.

      November 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Amanda

    Another thing I have looked at pictures of the platform. Most of which have screening/wire around the area...Unfortunately where it shows that he fell it was rather open....Maybe is a sign of the zoo being responsible.

    November 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      Maybe it's a sign that parents should not stand their children on safety railings that are there to protect them. It's not the zoo's fault that a mother made an incredibly poor decision

      November 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • True Story

      Maybe it's a sign of a parent being irresponsible. No, instead let's blame it on the zoo, I mean it is the zoo's fault for not taking people's stupidity into consideration, right?

      The mother CHOSE to put her child in an unsafe situation. Maybe other parents will LEARN from this experience and not put their children on something with signs clearly stating not to.

      Our society likes to blame whoever has the bigger pocketbook.

      November 11, 2012 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      she did not put him on the railing quit beliving the news wait to hear the mothers story

      November 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Sympathy, you must be a friend of the mother to be defending her so much with false information.

      November 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    All the dogs should be shot/euthanized. The exhibit should be closed forever and the zookeeper and exhibit managers fired.

    November 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      Should we not also consider that maybe someone other than the zoo is at fault? The child never would have fallen into the exhibit if his mother had not first put him on top of the guard railing. You know when you go into the zoo that it is filled with wild animals in enclosers, which means you need to respect the safety features, such as the guard railings, that are put in place. It's not the zoos fault that the mother made the poor decision to disregard the safety features.

      November 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shirley white

    Tragically, the child died of stupidity-on the part of his mother. Ten barriers could not overcome the stupidity and carelessness of some people. My sympathies are with the child, the dog that had to be shot and the zoo.

    November 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Shirley

    To BOB, you are as stupid as the mother. How do you think people manage in Africa? They learn to beware of wild animals and use their common sense, which you seem to be sorely lacking. Why deprive the public of seeing these wonderful animals because of the actions (or inaction) of one person.

    November 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      do do not live in Africa

      November 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      sorry i hit wrong buton did not mean to hit abuse truly sorry

      November 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annoyed

      As is Sympathy, who apparently lacks all knowledge of punctuation and proper grammar.

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

      to annoyed ...please i'm a english professor fool! did not know grammar was what we were discussing

      November 11, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annoyed

      Well that explains why you troll on here, you are the one that created the facebook page for the fundraiser. God help the kids that have to learn english from you.

      November 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Shirley, you are indeed correct. Annoyed, i'm under the assumption this person must be a friend of the mother. There is no other reason why someone would blatantly call EVERY media article a lie unless it's in favor of the mother. As i've said before Sympathy, please read the witness accounts. The mother held her child OVER the barriers REPEATEDLY at SEVERAL different exhibits. She was told to stop numerous times. I'm sorry for the child but this was entirely the mother's fault.

      November 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Oops! I didn't mean to hit "report abuse" on all of your comments Sympathy.... My deepest sympathies...

      November 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
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