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. Aubrie

    That woman is going to have horrid, relentless nightmares for the rest of her life. What a gruesome thing to witness.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • barb

      Hopefully, she will have nightmares. I'm afraid that people like her blame others and seek the money the ambulance chasers will try and win for her. I don't think she did it on purpose but ignorance can also bring on denial. Reality shows demonstrate this quite well.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • sympathy

      barb are u alonely woman that u have so much hate in your heart that u would comment like thatGod forgive you

      November 6, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Monochromatic

      I agree Aubrie...she will have horrible nightmares for the rest of her life. I was so upset at this mother's stupidity. If anything she should be charged with reckless endangerment of the child or murder without intent. But if that doesn't happen she will have to live with herself and those nightmares. That fact alone causes me to feel sympathetic to her before I go back to being upset with her actions.

      November 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jackson

    Well it looks like Darwin strikes again.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary Kaye Waterson

      Your compassion and empathy is endless

      November 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      Sadly, it got the wrong person.

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

    Why did the mother put the toddler on the railing and let go of him? That's crazy. The police need to charge her! Didn't she see the sign "don't feed the animals"?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unbelievable

      My bet is the mother let go of the child to take a picture with her iPhone then post it to Facebook.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pfizer

    I am saddened that people dont use caution around animals especially at zoos poor child rip

    November 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. darmonx

    criminal negligence, child endangerment, and murder on the mother.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Name*dj

    safety net that didnt work? what was it designed as? a trampoline?

    November 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lauren

      The netting is used to catch personal items such as cameras, hats, cell phones. Not for people.

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

    If twenty people jumped in and waived sticks at the dogs and formed an enclosure around the child, would it have helped? My answer is "No." It would not have helped because there were 11 dogs there.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • huh



      November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • rh

      Is the question always "would it have helped?" – sometimes we have to look at that small chance that it would have helped. Think about the 9-11 plane that crashed in Pennsylvania – did they know they WOULD have helped, or did they just decide to TRY?

      I would have been in after the kid, I have risked my life to save a domesticated animal.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      We're not talking domesticated pet doggies.

      1 wild dog > 5 unarmed humans

      November 6, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      I doubt that they have a basket of sticks near the railing that you can grab as you're on the way in to go all "man v. nature" on a pack of hunters. If they had already gone into the hunt/kill frenzy; you'd likely just be pulling more bodies out of there. These aren't house dogs. They are accomplished hunters and killers. Its what they do. Wild pack animals, ya know? They're really good at attacking "herds".

      November 6, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. fred

    It is very clear that the mother killed that child – she just used the dogs as a tool to get the job done.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • PirateKitten

      Oh... ok,, is that your conclusion on the whole thing, Detective? *rolls eyes*

      November 5, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      you are right!!!! i bet if the cops did a background check, she probably had a life insurance policy put on the baby for a million or so dollars. i beleive this was done to collect money and rid the mom of having to be tied down to a baby.

      November 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Fred and Joe -you need to watch your step. You have no authority to make these declarations and it is completely shameful that you would put this out there. A family is grieving like no other family has grieved before and this is the crap you come up with? Lord help you if tragedy ever strikes you (don't think that any of us are exempt)...

      November 7, 2012 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lynn

    This is proof that some people are too stupid to reproduce. It doesn't take that much intelligence to get pregnant and give birth! Any smart parent should have understood that zoo railings are not for kids to sit on. If the kid is too small to see the exhibit, then too bad – wait and take him to the zoo when the kid is older! I wish this dumb breeder would be prosecuted for child endangerment, but stupid parents seem to get away with anything.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. karri

    Why is this article focusing on the zoos responsibility? The zoo can only do so much to protect people. That child was ultimately the responsibility of the mother. Railings at every zoo i have been at have signs that say to not sit or climb the rails. Why was this child on the rail? It is a very sad situation. I hope the family has support during this time.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • austintatious

      Oh I'm betting the parents have already retained an attorney . Sad world that we don't take responsibility for our actions.

      November 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Name*

    Sad story. In my opinion it is primarily the mother's fault, God bless her. Investigate the zoo all you want, a two year old toddler should not have been on the railing in the first place. It's up to the zoo to make the railings, enclosures, etc. as secure as possible; it's up to human beings to do our part: follow the posted rules and use a measure of common sense.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerry

      If they had been leaning against the railing, and it give way, they MIGHT have a case for it being the fault of the zoo. But there was nothing wrong with the setup except that stupid is as stupid does.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fernace

    The zoo Will probably have to redo those safety nets that don't work & put up bigger signs w/bolder print, saying: "Absolutely no Rail Sitting"!I can understand why the family want to remain anonymous; they are overcome w/grief & I'm sure this mom is "raking herself over the coals" worse than any1 on this blog! Toddlers are quick & she maybe looked away for 2 sec's, that's all it takes! But we can't forget those none safe "safety nets"! A baby died because of it! 2 things went wrong here, the mom had a momentary lapse of attention, her baby fell & the safety net failed! The dogs are immaterial; they did what comes natural to their species! This is a human error, all the way around!!

    November 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • abacus2

      It is not a safety net, The net was designed to catch sunglasses,hats, cameras, etc that are dropped – not children!

      November 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Net was fine. Mother was defective

      November 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • monlette

      The child had no reason being up on that rail. Unless he was a ninja, I can't see him getting up there by himself, especially since it is curved away from the enclosure. So his mother either placed him on the far edge of the rail or dangled him in front of it. Either she was sadistic or criminally foolish.

      If anything the zoo should sue her for tramatizing witnesses.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      ..."I can understand why the family want to remain anonymous; they are overcome w/grief"...

      They are probably overcome with remorse and regret, but I'll bet they are remaining anonymous because they realize they are total morons that wouldn't have much public sympathy! (At least if these boards are any indication of sympathy...)

      November 6, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • betseymcqueen15

      Momof3- Perfectly said.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Sue

    Obviously a lot of you have never lived with a 2yr old. If you had you would know how many times a day they ask 'Up, Mommy. I want to see.', and you pick them up so they can see something bigger than themselves (which is a lot). Quit acting like a bunch of American taliban. This mom now has to live with the knowledge that haer mistake cost her child his life. She doesn't need or deserve your arrogance and condemnation.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • xeno

      I have lifted my children frequently, but I would never even have considered putting them on a rail of any sort, let alone a rail 14 feet over a pack of wild dogs.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unknown

      @Sue: I have my own kid who is now 11. I am the parent and I wont put my kid in danger if she or he insisted to see more. So if your kid would ask you to play knife or gun, you would let them?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Well then, if the 2-year old wants something, by all means let them have it, regardless of the risks. What do we even need parents for?

      November 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lena M.

      Have you ever heard of saying NO? Guess not....

      November 5, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • eagles_fan

      Just because your child asks for something doesn't mean you need to give it to them. Sometimes you need to say "no" in order to keep your child safe.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      I have three kids – they've 'seen' a lot in this world, and they are all still alive. It's the parent's responsibility to safe-guard their kids. If a two year-old asks to see, you HOLD them up, you don't put them in a dangerous situation for the reason that they ARE unpredictable! If the child wants to sit on the's time to say NO, or go home! You are the parent after all!

      November 6, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Wombat

      @Sue. Read over MomOf3's response to your post. Read it again to make sure that you get it, okay? I'm a Dad of 3 myself. Oldest is getting ready to go to college. All are safe and I'm going to continue exercising sound judgement to do my best to keep them that way. I'm a parent. Its what a responsible parent does. Saying "No" is part of good parenting. And hey, 2-year olds aren't the only ones unpredictable. Look at a teenager!!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Thank you for being one of the few on here with any sense. The kid had big glasses too -she was probably used to having to prop him up to see. I feel safe at zoos and expect that they have all measures covered. It is not the time to be blaming anyone -we all just need to band together and pray or if you don't pray, wish them the strength to somehow live the rest of their lives until they are reunited with their son. I am a Pgh. mom and it appears they go to my church...this has really hit home for me.

      November 7, 2012 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. I_was_there

    I saw the whole thing. The mother threw the child to the dogs on purpose. She got arrested by the cops on the scene of the crime and they took her away in a squad car. I don't know why CNN isn't reporting that.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • JD

      They aren't reporting it because it clearly wasn't true. Of course they took her away in a squad car, are you completely unaware that the police question "suspects" even after something so obviously a tragic accident? They don't just send you home and ask questions later.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • stokely

      So you were there and were one of the ones who did nothing. Bravo.

      And also: police will put you in a cruiser to interview you–not bc you are a suspect, necessarily– but because it can be a more private place to sit. I called the cops after a perv touched me on the subway, and the officer and I sat in the police cruiser (Yes, with me in the back where the bad guy usually sits) as we went over what happened.

      You're a moron.

      November 7, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. HulkHoganS3xTape

    These are mongrel beasts. Should all be whipped into submission, bound and drowned.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*tony


      I hope you never have children. You are a prime example of birth control.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • AM

      Dude I am sorry but if you are blaming the dogs let me give you a pointer. They were born wild animals! You idiot let me repeat WILD. It was not their fault they acted purely on instinct and had no idea what they were doing was wrong nor did it come to their minds. Its the humans who should have been thinking of all the consequences and there is a reason predators are called predators. The child sorry for the way he had to go was a form of prey to them because he was probably screaming like any child would and the dogs took that as a animal from their habitat. Don't blame the dogs for something that the humans around could have stopped. Plus they are endangered and they are animals no criminals. Research them and then decide if they should be put to extinction for I sure as heck don't want this species to go.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Your intellect fits your name

      November 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Nice troll!

      November 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JackieR

      @HulkHoganS3xTape...I hope you're joking. If not...please go aquire a gun and shoot yourself in your moronic head RIGHT NOW. You are too stupid to be walking around on this earth.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
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