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. george

    Wait, wait, hold the phone here a cotton-picking minute. A "railing" and a "safety net." A "SAFETY NET" !!!! Really?? Didn't think that railing was too safe did you zoo people? Needed a safety net after the railing ???? (Which did NOT work). A damn RAILING !!!!!!!! THAT was what you call safe? OMG !!!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob Weeber

      The safety net was not there to catch people who fall over the railing, but instead it was there to catch peoples cell phones or other items that they carelessly accidentally or intentionally drop into the exhibit.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      The net is for catching dropped articles such as cameras, hats and sunglasses. Not meant to catch children.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Then WHY do they call it a SAFETY net? Safety for those cell phones, cameras, etc.? PLEASE !!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Keeps the animals safe from foreign objects falling from people.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Dang glad we keep those dogs safe with a safety net and the kid just gets a railing!!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Great idea george... None of the thousands of visitors have fallen in. When a parent puts their child over the railing you hate so much, they fall in. Funny how that works...

      November 5, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3

      ..."Dang glad we keep those dogs safe with a safety net and the kid just gets a railing"...

      Well, someone has to protect the animals from the idiots that go to the zoo...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • moody2

      You're feeding the troll folks

      November 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Me

    "Asked whether the zoo takes responsibility for not creating a fail-proof system..." REALLY?! How about if people start taking responsibility for their own stupid and/or poor choices! I'm seeing a lot of comments about "nano decisions" and turning your back for a second... NO people! That is not the case here! According to witnesses, the mother STOOD THE CHILD ON THE RAILING. This was 100% preventable. Unless the mother is mentally challenged, there is no excuse for putting a child on that railing. It makes me sick that a little boy died this way and that the dog had to be killed. But don't blame the zoo or the animals!!

    November 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      u must be referring to me, Me. it is tragic for child, mother, dog & all witnesses. didn't mean it wasn't a foolish choice on mother's part, just all have, at one time or another, made an unwise 'nano-second' decision that could have ended tragically. it takes a FRACTION of a second for a child to roll off a changing table onto the floor & if landed tragically, could die. this too could be prevented, but stuff like this happens. YES she made a poor choice & lost her child because of it, but who are we to judge?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jaime Lyn

      Clearly you also do not have children. They move FAST. Yes, the mother probably should not have out her child on the railing. But like most parents, we think they are safe in our arms. The child was probably very excited to see the dogs and couldn't get a clear view. If the animals below were say, giraffes or elephants maybe even zebras, the zoo was ok with just the railings. But if you have man-eating dogs below in the abundance of dozens, a better safety protocol was needed.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Yes, the mother made a stupid decision. Did she deserve to watch her child die because of it? I sure hope you don't consider yourself a Christian or a compassionate human being...I'm pretty sure that every parent has done something stupid, and none of them deserve their children to die because of it.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      You are 100% right. People need to be accountable for their decisions, and this one turned tragic. The response from JamieLyn is moronic because she says children move so fast, BUT in this case, the mother stood her child on the rail! IN...SANE...

      November 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Howard

    WHY did SHE PUT that baby on the edge of that railing like that? Some people are just waaaaaay too stupid to be parents. You need a license to drive but not to become a parent. inexplicable.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • catstoys60

      well said.....

      November 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jaime Lyn

      Howard – how many children do you have?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • tba

      Jamie Lyn – are you saying one must have a child in order to know what is a stupid thing to do with a child? I don't have children. But I know placing a child on a high rail above ANY exhibit is careless. I know if I leave a child with a plastic bag the child could put it on its head and smother. I know if I let a child sit next to an electrical socket, chances are good that he or she will stick a finger in it. I know if I leave a child near a set of curtains with a floor-length pull cord can result in that child SOMEHOW getting that cord around its neck.

      By that logic, you would say that unless you are a dog, you can't understand that being beaten with a stick would hurt.

      DO NOT PLAY THE 'IF YOU DON'T HAVE CHILDREN YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND card. It has no place or affect on another person's ability to perceive what is reasonable care or negligence.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chuck

    Brings to mind the old time honored saying:
    Make it idiot proof and someone will build a better idiot.
    OK I feel bad for he mom, but she made a bad choice.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Such an awesome statement... So so true!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Semyon

    Here in Seattle, the Painted dogs have been removed. Someone, somewhere must know something about their vicious attack instincts. Based on the fact that a human "fell" into the enclosure, the enclosure is not adequate. Stop making excuses and get ready to pay!

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

      AMEN !!!! A "railing" ??? REALLY ??? A "railing" Even the zoo didn't think it was too safe because they put a defective "safety net" behind the "railing" Why not a ten feet tall chain leak fence? PUT ME ON THE JURY !!!!!!!!

      November 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      So you think it was a good idea for the mother to put her child over the railing? Funny how we need enclosures not to keep animals in, but to keep idiots out. Clearly you are one.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • MomOf3


      "Funny how we need enclosures not to keep animals in, but to keep idiots out."

      LOL!! Too true...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. wa2go

    You people have failed to consider the possibility that the mother simply wanted to get rid of her kid without going to jail for it.

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

      What time does your work shift start at the zoo?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      @George....of course he wa2go HAS to be a zoo employee, because mothers NEVER kill their children. Oh wait....
      Susan Smith. Diane Downs. Andrea Yates. China Arnold. Michelle Kehoe. Tanya Thomas. Dawn Brown. Marybeth Tinning. Felicia Boots. Lashanda Armstrong. Kristen Labrie. Angelica Clark. Alexandra Tobias. Darlie Routier. Julie Schenecker. Stacey Pagli. Ka Yang. Robin Lee Rowe. Marie Moore. Monica McCarrick. Dena Schlosser. Otty Sanchez. Susan Eubanks. Kenisha Berry. Michelle Tharp. Socorro Caro. Theresa Lewis. Frances Newton. Marie Noe.

      Casey Anthony.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Pat

    I hope an investigate of the careless parent(s) is included. This is a tragedy that could easily have been avoided were it not for the negligence of the child's caretaker.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LizaMom

    Wish I could push all these judgmental people off that railing.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Oh yeah? Ask yourself ONE question... Would the baby have gotten mauled if mom hadn't stood him on the railing?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • LizaMom

      Pretty sure that's occurred to the mom at this point. Can't imagine she's too happy about her decision.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Ask yourself this question: Why did the zoo not have a safety net for the child? People are saying the safety net talked about in the story was for things being dropped that might endager the dogs. Goodness, too bad they didn't think more of the safety of the child and had a safety net for him.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • NIK

      Great idea, George. They should also put up a sign that says, "Danger! Wild Animals! Do not dangle your child over the enclosure! But if you are that stupid, we put up a net just in case! And if that net fails, we will put up another net!" Geez... you won't stop until everyone lives in a padded room to protect themselves from their own stupidity.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mom

      I agree Liza! I am loosing faith in humanity reading these posts! I can not believe how cruel and ignorant people are!

      November 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. WCFL Chicago

    Pray for this child. Pray that he/she is in the comfort of the LORD.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • speneeeeeee

      I wish the mother went in after the child

      November 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgcnn

      Lord, right. Where was he when his mother placed her child on the railing? Why didn't he strike her down with the lightning or whatever?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • shon

      pray? there is no lord people!!!! you can prey before it happens or after. the out come is still the same.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom

    Yes, it was mother's poor judgement, but I doubt that many parents did not have a moment in life of their children with a poor judgement call. It is just life, bringing up kids aint easy and because so many distractions of modern, where supposedly every second counts, it is hard to stay focused.

    I hope the parents will sue the zoo, because for me it is unacceptable that a director of zoo cannot forsee that this could happen in the exhibit like this. Imagine another scenario that there is a crowd up front of the exhibit and someone gets pushed accidentally. This is all about risk mitigation and the zoo did not do a proper job.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • BPollutin

      Tom-Tom – you really are Dum-Dum

      November 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • mtaror

      Tom you must be kidding about the family suing the zoo. It is not the zoo's resposibility to prevent every possible irresponsible move by people who visit the zoo. It was a tragedy that was caused by the mother and not by the zoo. I am sure it was just a momentary lapse of judgement by the mother. But the zoo is not responsible – she is.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgcnn

      Are you nuts? This woman should be arrested for doing what she did, ZOO is not responsible for idiotic behavior.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Seriously? Sue the Zoo for an obvious error on her part. Should we sue the DOT for allowing cars, those deadly things, out on the road? Moron.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Georgeisstupid

      Tom, how stupid are you? The railings are higher that the average waist height of an adult. Guess what? You can't get shoved over that unless they have your IQ.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • CTed

      Are you kidding? You are the problem with society. The Zoo should not have to spend millions to make it uber safe in the face of evey dumb things someone might do. If someone jumps inot the pit the Zoo is not responsible. If someone jumps up on the railing and then falls into the pit the zoo is not responsible. There is no way to fall into the econlosure without climbing on the railing and that is forbidden. The mother allowed the child to sit ont he railing. It is a tradedy yes but if she sues she is wrong. It's more justified to charge her with murder 2 (depraved indifference) than to say the zoo is at fault.

      Do you also sue car companies for traffic accidents, they CAN make cares crash proof like tanks, and make their top speeds 20 MPH.... they CAN make the safe. But they don't, they are reasonably safe for people who use them properly. That is all that they are responsible for. So too the zoo.....

      November 5, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      @Tom – i agree with all EXCEPT 'sue the zoo'. along with our fast-paced society, we have become extremely 'sue-happy'. when a woman can sue AND WIN because the coffee is hot, for pity's sake, we are in sad shape as a society. you have to know zoos DO take precautions – & take safety seriously, otherwise, thousands would die frequently instead of 1 in 114 years (pittsburgh zoo). the rail was @ 5' high with glass at the bottom to protect – tragically, it was the mother's bad choice

      November 5, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Axel Segura

      Tom Tom, you are not so wrong. If the zoo can not safe keep the wild animals from stupid people then they shouldnt have them in display. You have to take in consideration, stupid people are everywhere we turn around. if they didnt exist, the exhibits would have white wooden fences.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • nepawoods

      It's a 4 foot high railing – nobody will be accidentally pushed over it.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • a9ymous

      @Tazmom...(totally unrelated, but I have to address your comment about the McDonald's case....Ms. Liebeck received third-degree burns; was hospitalized for a week; had multiple skin grafts, and has scarring on almost 1/5 of her body. The coffee was served at 190 degrees...hotter than anyplace else in the country...She only asked that her medical bills be paid; they refused (were making over a million dollars a day on coffee alone), and that is why she sued.

      Oh, and this was after nearly 1000 other claims of similar burns–including on children–from the coffee, all of which McDonald's ignored...and after a non-profit burn research group asked them to lower the temperature. )

      November 6, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Undblitzin

      Hard to imagine a crowd of people pushing someone UP four feet to a railing then pushing them over.....

      November 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. daphne

    Jon, are you seriously saying, it serves her right!" are you kidding me. You seem to be stating that good for her in losing her son for being ignorant and irresponsible. I sure hope you are not raising children yourself. Your callous and mean spirited comment towards a mother in pain after losing her child is beyond reason. What a horrible way to leave a comment on here.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. speneeeeeee

    Thinning the herd, I feel bad for the dog they killed

    November 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mark

    It is possible this was done on purpose.. 1st she gets rid of the kid without any fault 2nd she probably will sue them and get a judgement against the zoo.. Its perfect...

    November 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • rgcnn

      Nice, I see a movie with the twist coming soon

      November 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • darmonx

      i dunno... prosecutors can file charges of negligence, recklessness and child endangerment. murder charges may be possible if a shadow of intent reveals itself. cant beleive the people here who feel bad for the mother... if you are a mother.. you know you would never dangle your kid over an animal exhibit even if its just a mouse cage.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tazmom

      geez – i would NEVER do this; never hang my baby over a how-many-ever-story hotel balcony; never forget my child somewhere; never take my eyes off my child until they are 30; never be asleep when my toddler gets up before me (truly, tell me ANY mother of a 2+ year old who hasn't had this happen?)... prayers all around...

      November 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob

    What kind of an idiot makes such a mistake. Wow. I bet she';ll try to sue somehow too.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Georgeisstupid

    George, you are a complete idiot. Railings are there to keep people out of an area. Guess what? Don't put your kid on top of a barrier and your kid will survive!

    I'm gonna use your logic and come kick down your door to your house and take all your belongings. Guess what? You can't do anything about it, you put up a door! You didn't put up an all metal armored door with 20 locks! I can kick down your door so that gives me the right to your stuff.

    That is your logic, it is stupid and shows how you shouldn't ever be on a jury or reproduce.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
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