Zoo Tragedy: Painted Dogs that Mauled Child Won't Be Euthanized. Should Outdoor Exhibit Be Changed?
Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium CEO Barbara Baker said the African painted dogs will remain in quarantine for 30 days. The zoo will reopen Tuesday.
The African painted dog that mauled a 2-year-old visitor to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium will not be euthanized, but all of the zoo’s African painted dogs would remain in quarantine for 30 days, zoo CEO Barbara Baker announced Monday.
The boy, who neighbors told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review was Maddox Derkosh of Whitehall, was with his 34-year-old mother, when he fell from the top of a platform railing to the ground inside the pit in the dogs' exhibit, according to a statement from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
Police said the child lost his balance after his mother lifted him in a standing position onto the 4-foot-high wooden railing that overlooks the enclosure.
"The child was caught by the safety netting below the railing," Baker said. "But from what we understand from witnesses, the child was so small he bounced twice, then fell into the pit. The netting caught him, it just didn't hold him."
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office determined the child did not die from the fall, Baker said.
"The child was mauled by dogs," Baker said. "It happened so quickly. It happened literally in seconds. There was very little anyone could do."
Baker said staff members arrived outside the exhibit within seconds, but the exhibit was too dangerous for them to enter with 11 dogs inside.
Baker said zoo personnel were able to secure 10 of the dogs. Police shot and killed one dog, which exhibited aggressive and violent behavior.
Asked if the zoo took responsibility for the death, Baker said the staff did everything it could do.
"We discourage anyone from sitting on the railings, and they are built at a 45-degree angle facing away from the exhibit, so that if a child would fall, we hope it would fall backwards (away from the exhibit) rather than forwards," she said.
"But life is full of risk, and there is no such thing as a fail-proof exhibit."
Baker said the zoo's safety committee meets regularly, tours the facility and makes recommendations that are implemented as soon as possible.
The African painted dogs will remain in quarantine for 30 days as a precaution. Their vaccinations were all up to date, and they all had undergone thorough physical examinations in September.
The exhibit will remain closed through the winter, and Baker said it’s too early to predict its future.
Several investigations are underway, including those by the Pittsburgh Police, the USDA and the zoo itself.
The zoo will reopen Tuesday.
"The zoo feels terrible," Baker said, fighting back tears. "It's the worst nightmare a zoo professional can have."
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