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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Tendr... TendrelovinMaMa

I wouldn't have had my toddler where ever he was to look at the dog especially since it seems to be in an open area. I am extra cautious at the zoo. Plus I would have immediately jumped in after. And fought like hell to protect my baby. It should be a animal instinct instilled in every mother. I would lay my life down for my son instead of just watching in horror. She could have saved him or attemped to.

Angie Hayes

Why do they always kill the animal in these situations. If your going to kill an animal because it killed a human, you should probably put them all out of their misery because many of the animals on this planet would kill us. Except cows and chickens, and we eat them.

Maias... MaiasMommy619

Angie according to the actual article all the dogs were called off except for the one that was killed because he was extremely aggressive and was not letting go of the child. There was a reason it was killed.

Caera Caera

Why should we question the zoo? It was the idiot parent who probably ignored warning signs and placed the boy on the fence so he could get a better look.

Unless the fence physically broke away, the parent has ALL the blame in this one. Charge him/her with manslaughter, and the zoo should get to sue the family for the loss of the dog.

People are so freaking stupid.

nonmember avatar Cami

I don't blame the zoo one bit. I've taken my two young children - three and four-years-old - to the zoo many times. We respect the signs. We respect the rules. She was apparently balancing her child ON THE RAIL at the edge of the exhibit. Many times, I've held my kids in my arms to give them a better look. If they couldn't see, then too bad. I tell them maybe they can get a better view next time we visit. That was irresponsible of the mom. Not the zoo! Will the family now sue? It's like the people who jumped INTO the tiger pen at the San Francisco zoo. One of the men died. The family sued the zoo - and WON. Unbelieveable.

Aunt_... Aunt_ning

This is my zoo, I am there probably 30 times a year. This fence was at least 4 feet high, and unable to be climbed. She placed the child on top of the fence so he could see in the pit. If she had used her brain and looked around right next to the overlook area there is a big glass window that you can get right up next too to see the entire exhibit as well, so the child could get a better look at the dogs with out being dangled over a protective barrier. While I feel bad for the mother, this was not my Zoo's fault. There are plenty of protections in place all over the zoo and at this overlook as well. The mother was lacking in common sense and the Zoo should not be blamed because of the sheer stupidity of one person.

nonmember avatar stella

You commenters are all so judgmental. I hope y'all never make a mistake and never do anything you regret. I'm glad there are some perfect people in this world. Sadly, I don't know any.

nonmember avatar Joe

contributory negligence by the mother, sure. ...but I fear that negligence will be found on the part of the Zoo as well. A risk management site inspection by any reasonable person in charge asking "what can go wrong?" should have imagined the possibility of what happened. (The 14' fall is a great enough risk to eliminate) The second step in risk management, answering the question, "what can we do about it?" should have yielded a stronger response than putting up a flimsy mesh netting.

Rachel N Ez Maynor

I blame the mother 100% Why was she holding her child over the railing in the first place. She is an idiot and I think she should be charged with something. What kind of parent holds their child over the railing of an exhibit with wild animals.

Kate Cooley

In my son's zoo-going life, I've lifted him up to see over heads and obstructions, but that's me holding him well away from the fences, not perching him on them. That's just common sense. You hold them UP, you don't sit them on the railing. I feel bad for her because of the situation, but the zoo wasn't at fault.


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