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. Susan

    I was a vet tech for 14 years. It was an occupational hazard to be threatened to be bit and mauled on a daily basis. You threatening me with is absolutely hilarious. Why don't you ask yourself why there has never been an accident like that before in zoo setting in 40 years? Because MOST people have better sense than to balance their infants on a dangerous rail.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Well good for you for figuring this whole thing out. Perhaps take a moment to reflect on the tragedy at hand instead of providing us with your resume (vet tech -wow)...

      November 7, 2012 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lizzy10

    That poor child.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dog

    Or out of women who name their hydrocephalics robert

    November 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Or microcephalics named Dog

      November 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tiredoldman

    You cant make anything idiot proof. As soon as you think you have someone comes along and lowers the bar on idiocy. If you need further proof of this just read the 10 page warning booklet attached to a sled. I read one that actually said do not use in a tree. Seem that some one actually tried that and got hurt and sued. I am sorry the child died but the fault of his death is totally on his incompetent mother.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      I have a friend who remarks that 'The fact that there are warnings on a hair dryer telling you not to use it in the tub let's you know just how freaking stupid people can be'.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Volley4

    Thank you Robert for taking the time and effort in making it very clear that you're racist.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. demonicdogs

    these dogs obviously are endangered for a reason, they are eating livestock and should be extinct same with pit bulls that people keep. these are not pets but wild beasts that eat humans. these are not your blind guide dogs or police dogs..theses are wild beast dogs. in the wild they are killed.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      You are a moron. Seriously, its a shame your mother didn't drop you in that pit. The world is better off without people like you spreading hate and idiocy.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • suethezoo

      you the idiot. dogs or any animal that eats or kills a human is killed. peta...these are not your home pet dogs these are vicious wild beast animals and see humans as prey and 'food' and live on animal instinct. they eat people and are 'monsters' do I hate these beastly wild dogs, yes. eat those dogs and barbeque them.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      @demonicdogs and sue the zoo – Are you people for real? Lions would do the same thing. So would tigers, leopards.
      So we should kill every animal that eats meat?? Because that's what people are in the eyes of wild animals – MEAT. A THREAT. By YOUR logic, we should kill ourselves because WE TOO EAT MEAT. Tell you what – you go first.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. demonicdogs

    these dogs look like the pet cemetary dogs from stephen king's movie pet cemetary evil looking devil's dog from hell.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jake

      They had a big part in planet earth, and on the bonus features. Cool animals.

      November 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robert

    How can you be "racist" against dogs. Race is a phenotypical characteristic used to classify humans not canines.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      So I am a racist because I don't like Obama's pets?

      November 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      President Obama doesn't own on of these, and yes, you are racist.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tazmom

    geez people – i KNOW the mother shouldn't have put her child on the rail...but, truly, can even one of us say we've NEVER done/not done something that if ...IF... happened, it would have been a tragedy? i am an intelligent woman with 2 grown kids, but i am certainly not perfect. i'm blessed they survived childhood intact, but, if we're honest, ALL of us have made a 'seemed like the right idea at the time' split-second decision that wasn't wise. what a tragedy. God Bless all involved.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      I can say I've never done anything as blatantly stupid as putting a 3 year old on a fence that's overlooking a dangerous animal pen. The mother should be charged with negligent homicide and child endangerment at the very least.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • SWbeth

      Tazmom.. I'm in agreement with you... I can afford great compassion in this case. She will live with the guilt all her days. People without compassion are simply dead already, but don't yet know it.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      @SWBeth – TY, peeps seem to misconstrue what you try to say – glad you got the point! i may not have made THIS specific tragic choice, but i know, if i'm honest, i've made choices that COULD have been tragic, but i was blessed they weren't. none of us is perfect & this family definitely needs love & compassion – not judgement. (that's not our job)

      November 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      What part of dangling your two-year old over the railing of a wild animal enclosure 'seems like a good idea'?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. Matt

    Are you kidden me...........A little kid died and your making jokes..........You have serious problems.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robert

    How do you know? His autobiography said he ate dogs.. Maybe he had a change of heart and decided to keep a few to play with.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      President Obama does not own one of these dogs, and yes, you are still racist.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bobby

    The mom should have jump in after her baby..what was she afraid of????

    November 5, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • demonicdogs

      some one posted saying the mother threw the baby into the pit. this has never happened before it's impossbile to have baby fall unless you threw it over. no videos. no cameras.? no security channel...that is the reality and it's evil these dogs are evil looking, beastly crestures that should be killed.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniela

      Shock can paralyze you emotionally and physically

      November 7, 2012 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. tazmom

    mark, if you were truthful, you may not have made THIS specific nano-second error in judgement, but even turning your back on a child on a changing table to reach for a diaper can be tragic IF the unthinkable happens. i dont' think there is a human alive that reaches maturity without having done / not done something that could have ended tragically IF the unthinkable happens.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sasa

    Sucks that it happened. I feel bad for the dog that was killed. Looks like the exhibit is as safe and viewer-friendly as possible. There is glass below the railing so little kids can see the dogs, too. No need to put the kids on the railing. So now we've already punished the dogs for being instinctive, next we punish the zoo because a patron is an idiot? This is what we've come to. People blame their stupid actions on companies and organizations. Wouldn't surprise me if the mom tries to file a lawsuit.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      I'm glad you feel sorry for the DOGS. OMG !

      November 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tazmom

    unless proven otherwise, the mother made one of those nano-second decisions where the unthinkable DID happen & she will have to live with this the rest of her life. i cannot fathom what it must be like for her to have to have that memory in her mind. i pray for the child, the mother, and all involved as ANY witness, police, workers, guests, have to have nightmares about this tragedy.

    November 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
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