Toddler Killed by Wild Dogs At Pittsburgh Zoo Exhibit Should Make Us Question Zoos

wild dogsA toddler boy visiting the Pittsburgh zoo somehow managed to fall into the wild dog exhibit and be ripped to shreds while his helpless mother watched from above. The horrific tragedy happened on Sunday and within minutes the story was everywhere with many questioning exactly how the little boy fell into the exhibit in the first place.

It's a good question. Wild "painted" African dogs are about the size of Labrador retrievers, weight about 37 to 80 pounds and are most dangerous in a pack. In this case, 11 dogs attacked the boy, though it is unclear whether he died from the fall or from the attack as yet.

One thing is clear: None of this should have been possible. A woman trying to "give her child a better view" should not have been able to drop him into the exhibit.


Of course, there are questions. Why did the mother not jump in after him? Understandably it happened in a matter of a seconds and the dogs were on him immediately. But imagining myself in that scenario, I can't imagine I would not make the (probably stupid) choice to jump right in and beat off the dogs.

Or maybe not.

Obviously, I can't judge the mom. I don't have any understanding of what that must have been like for her. What I can judge, though, is the zoo. For many reasons.

First of all, zoos are generally just controversial. The last dog -- a species considered endangered -- was shot because of this incident. It's not really the dog's fault. He was not a domesticated dog. He was a wild African beast who should probably be roaming in his native land, not on display for a toddler to be eaten.

Even more to the point, why was a mother able to drop her child into the exhibit? I have been to a thousand zoos from San Diego to Cincinnati and around the world and never once do I remember seeing an exhibit where it was possible to "accidentally" fall into a cage. Sure, someone who WANTED to scale a fence could do so. Stupid people do that regularly. But on "accident"? That just seems wrong.

Maybe we was wiggling. Maybe the mom was holding him in a bad way. Maybe she should not have been holding him in the way she was at all. But really, he should not have been able to fall into the exhibit. Until it is clear how this happened, I will place blame on the zoo.

The poor grieving mom, who screamed for help so loudly she was heard all over the park, is not the first person I would blame. This story is everything that is wrong with zoos.

Painted dogs are not an "exhibit." They are wild animals capable of great destruction. As parents, we trust the zoos to know that and keep us safe. How did this happen? It is unimaginable and my heart breaks for that poor mom.

Do you think this is the zoo's fault?


Image via Mister-E/Flickr

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