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



To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Maias... MaiasMommy619

He didn't "somehow" fall into the pit... His stupid mother was showing the child the dogs by holding/dangling the boy over the fence so he could get a better look..And she dropped him in there by accident... So no it not the zoos fault, it's the negligence of the mother... She is at fault. The zoos put those barriers up for a reason. I read the full article on yahoo.. It would help if you put all of the info in your articles so we can form a proper opinion.

Maias... MaiasMommy619

They also mentioned that the mother was doing this through our the day with other exhibits and even by waterfalls.. So it wasn't a one time thing.. She did it all day...

Bunny... BunnyplusMason

I do not fault the zoo one tiny bit in this situation. It is entirely the mothers fault.

peanu... peanut081981

I disagree with the comment that it's the zoo's fault. There are much more destructive animals at a zoo than a pack of wild dogs. Crocodiles, rhinos, lions, etc.  It's up to to parents to follow signs, follow direction and keep their children where they need to be. Behind the fence. There's no need to spend a ton of money on a fence that's x feet high, so that some idiot can decide to ignore the warnings and hold her kid over it if it's NOT high. That's asinine. Blaming the zoo. This is pure contributory negligence.

Sure, I feel terrible for the mother. I'm sure she has enormous guilt as well. And that poor child. I hope it was the fall that killed him. However, you can bet your ass I won't be holding my child up to "see" better. These animals are behind a fence for a reason. And you can "see them" behind a fence. I also agree with MaiasMommy619 after reading the yahoo article. Your articles are biased and do not have all the facts. Good day, sir. (Lol).

bills... billsfan1104

Of course you would blame the zoo and the wild animals. Its the entitlement mentality that got her son killed. She thought she was entitled to ignore the signs and do whatever she wants. I feel bad that her son was killed, but if she didnt ignore the signs, he son would be alive

Tommy... TommyAbby

What did you a headline and determined the story for yourself? What kind of writer doesn't fact-check before submitting a story??? The mom was putting the child in danger. She should have been arrested for child endangerment. Perhaps now she has learned her lesson.. albeit the hard way. 


Katie Hesney Johnson

I don't think it's the zoo's fault at all, we've been to various zoos and if my daughter wants a better look, I always hold her arms across her waist at my eye level, and never EVER over the fence line. If anything, I'll block my view so she can get a closer look. But we weren't all there, we can't judge this woman.

No matter what we debate, a little life was tragically cut short, and the mother will probably never forgive herself. I hope she has some comfort (be it religion or family), in this tragic time in her life. 

doubl... doubledsmommy

The Philly zoo has an exhibit that has a relatively low bar and a huge drop under it, but no high fence. So, the zoo mentioned is not the only zoo that has an exhibit like that. You have to watch and protect your children.

Andrea Byrd Plate

It's a little something called common sense-you don't put your toddler on top of a barricade so they can get a closer look!  I'm sorry for the mother, but that was a bad call on her part.  I'm with Katie-if my daughter wants a better look at the zoo, I hold her up at least a foot back from the fence-it would never even cross my mind to let her stand on a fence.

Judith K Littles

News stories at other sites explain this story in better, greater detail. Here is an excert: "Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police said the attack happened at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday after the mother picked the child up and put him on top of a railing at the edge of a viewing deck. "Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the pit, and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs," Kraus said. "It was very horrific."

Read more:


I don't want to judge this mother but maybe if she had followed the rules this would have been avoided.

1-10 of 162 comments 12345 Last