It Doesn’t Have to Happen

Last week I did an interview with CNN's Headline News regarding a four day old infant that had just been killed by the family’s pit bull in Jacksonville, Florida.  Baby Justin was lying on the bed while his mother went to take a shower when the attack happened.  The baby was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries and the pit bull was seized by animal control and euthanized the next day.  First, my heart goes out to Justin’s family.  As a mother I cannot imagine the pain that they are going through at the moment.

The family stated that their dog was very friendly and had no previous incidences of aggressive behavior, not even towards their other child, a four year old boy.  An investigation is now underway to determine why the dog attacked and if there had been any warning signs.  One of the points I made on the show, however, was something that I don’t think was on other people’s radars:  Why was the most crucial piece of evidence in the case destroyed so quickly?  You can interview the family all you like, their friends and neighbors.  You can listen to the testimony of animal control who said that the dog was very aggressive when they went to pick him up.  Well, that doesn’t surprise me because what would you do if a group of strangers came into your home to take you away?  I’m sure that you would feel threatened and react in a negative way too.  My question is: why was the dog euthanized before he was evaluated by a qualified behavioral specialist?  The dog was put down less then twenty four hours after the attack had happened, so I don’t believe that he was seen by anyone who was able to evaluate him properly and even if someone had seen him, twenty four hours is not enough time to do a thorough temperament test and an evaluation that would help determine why the attack happened. The dog might not have been behaving aggressively at all – in fact he might have just been stimulated by the infant’s cries which could have sounded like a squeaky toy or a piece of prey to play with.  All the ‘might haves’ and ‘could haves’ are now going to be just that because now the dog has been destroyed, we will never know.

Let me be clear:  I’m not claiming that the dog was somehow a victim, nor am I defending him or his actions.  I agree that the dog should have been put to sleep even if he had undergone the above-mentioned tests, but in order to avoid these kind of tragedies in the future, we have to find out more about what triggers such an apparently violent event so that we can build up a clearer picture of why a dog sometimes kills in this manner.  I understand that it would be cruel to keep the dog alive for too long because of the stress it would be under being away from its family, and that getting a clear picture of behavior would be hard in a shelter environment, but if a professional had been able to study this dog, they would have come up with potentially valuable information that could be shared and used to prevent future attacks from happening.

Education is key, which is why I am developing a project that will spread the word about dogs and child safety, particularly for new mothers-to-be.  Too many infants and young children are being mauled or killed by the family pet and it is time to take action and spread the message about safety and a parent’s responsibility.   When people like me advise that an infant or young child should never be left alone with a dog even for one second, we mean it!  Dogs and young children do not mix well and the combination can be a recipe for disaster.   Active supervision when both are in the same room together is crucial and separation when a parent is unable to supervise is a must.  Follow those simple rules and babies like Justin will be kept out of harm’s way.  Life changes when a baby comes into the home and adjustments need to be made so that everyone in the household – including the new baby and the family pet – are safe and protected from each other.

And to all of those calling out for the pitbull breeds to be banned, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), does not work!  Britain, other countries, and several US states have banned pitbulls and/or certain other breeds for decades and yet child deaths from dog attacks are continuing to rise.  BSL addresses the wrong end of the leash.  We need to be focusing on owners and their ultimate responsibility for the animal in their care.  So regardless of how you feel about the politics of the debate, the end results of such legislation speak the loudest – BSL doesn’t make the world a safer place.  Let’s concentrate on the deed and not the breed and give full focus to keeping children safe around all dogs.

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27 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Have to Happen

  1. Traci

    I would like to read information on new baby's and pets I have a grandchild due Jan 22 and also I have a 2 year old boxer

  2. Gordon

    I completely agree with everything stated in this blog. I would like to add to it, though. Many people automatically give up their family dog to a rescue or the pound as soon as they find out they are going to have kids. That leaves a lot of dogs homeless and are often needlessly euthanized. I would like to encourage families who will be adding babies to the mix to follow Victoria's guidelines of never leaving the two unsupervised together as opposed to giving up their dogs.

  3. Laurie Higgins

    There are more points than just the dog.

    The child was left on a bed. Many, many children have died in this way without a dog in the room. They roll over on the soft bed with soft coverings and accidentally suffocate.

    Rule #1 for parents: NEVER leave your child unattended. Note that I did not put in any modifiers. NEVER leave your child unattended. I mean NEVER. The child goes into a crib or other "safe" place if the parent really, really needs to take a shower or whatever.

  4. Gail

    I agree with all of your points. Infants and small children should never be left alone with a family pet--even cats! And breed specific legislation solves nothing. My son's pitbull is a gentle, submissive female who taught our autistic grandson (our daughter's boy) not to be afraid of dogs. Dolly the princess pitbull is a high energy dog, who plays enthusiastically with our other grandsons, but she learned very quickly that she could not behave that way around our special boy, because he would run away. She couldn't even look at him, when he was "sneaking up" on her. She held perfectly still. He felt of her feet, and she didn't move. He patted her back, and she didn't move. Then he picked up her tail and bit it--and she didn't move. Granddaddy had a bigger fit than Dolly did. By the end of his visit, the boy was picking up Dolly's lips and trying to put dogfood in her mouth, and she would only turn her head and walk away. Because of that, our daughter's family was able to adopt their own dog from a shelter where they live. Not all dogs--even dogs of a particular breed--are alike.

  5. Kim

    Sadly, these incidents though rare, are tragic. There are actually far more cases in which a child's life is SAVED by the dog. I recall one not long ago when again, the baby was lying on a bed. The mother was in another room when the dog began to bark incessantly. The mother ran to the room where the dog was barking and discovered the baby on the bed, not breathing. The dog knew something was wrong and alerted the mother. The baby might not be alive today had it not been for the vigilance of the dog.

  6. Cara

    You are so right about this Victoria. Why not let dog behavorist study the dog in order to prevent such future attacks?

    And while I am not blaming the mother for leaving the child alone for just a few seconds with the dog, I do think most parents should be aware it is dangerous to do that.

    I have two dogs, Miniature Pinscher/Daschund, and while both are well-trained and I do not have children, I think it is entirely reasonable and responsible that even when I have small children and/or babies as guests, I would NEVER leave them alone with my two dogs.

    My heart goes out to the mother/father -- not only have they lost a child but a beloved pet. Very sad.

  7. Tracy C

    As a mother of two boys I feel for the mother and I hope she does not feel that anyone is picking on her. I too agree with the other posters that state Children should not me left alone unless in a safe location like their crib or cradle. Tragedy can happen anywhere and we need to be our child's protectors. We need more education out there on Children's safety, pets and Children and bite prevention. Thank you for writing the article.

  8. Sharon

    Great post, Victoria! I agree with everything but 1 point.

    I know this may be an unpopular point of view, but I am not convinced that the dog should have been euthanized AT ALL. Of course I have sympathy for the parents. I'm sure they never envisioned something like this could happen. It's tragic. But, to your point, no assessment of the dog's temperament was made after the incident. If the dog wasn't violent before, I think it's safe to say that something happened to make him snap out of fear. If this child has been left alone with this dog before, maybe this child has on more than one occasion hit the dog and this time he snapped. If a conclusion could be drawn on what prompted this incident, maybe this dog could have been rehabilitated and put into a new home/situation what would prevent something like this from ever happening again. Of course now, we'll never know what really happened or whether this dog could have been truly "saved." Instead a child is dead and so is the dog-- and neither one of them is truly responsible.

    As painful as it is to accept, the fault lies with the human ADULTS in this situation who allowed their 4 year old child to be alone with a dog in the first place. No child that young should be left with a dog alone- any dog, EVER, regardless of the breed. Despite public opinion, pit bulls are actually very sweet and loyal to humans. And, it angers and saddens me that the breed will suffer once again in the public eye because a HUMAN did not behave responsibly.

  9. Emily Rosado

    I agree with you Victoria. I feel for this mom and her family. It is an unimaginable tragic event. Interaction with any newcomer in the household is essential with animals. Boundaries can be taught because they are very territorial and loyal to their masters and they aim to please. We will never know what made the dog snap if indeed that's what happened or if he saw the child as a new toy to play with. All we can do is continue to educate and spread awareness.

  10. Cindy Karnes

    I agree with everything written. Also what people don't understand is when a newborn is brought into the home after you have had the pet for years or however long, the pet get's less attention. The pet will become jealous. This can be a time bomb also if the dog and child are not supervised. This attack is not only being done by pit bulls but other breeds of dogs also.

  11. Hertzi

    It is a sad incident, my heart goes out to the parents that lost their babies, both. We do not know, but can only guess what happened there, therefore cannot judge or jump into conclusions.
    I am completely against breed discrimination. Every dog if given a stressful situation can snap, or can react according to their instincts, indeed we do prefer to educate dogs to be more manageable and obedient, we do want them to feel more confident and calm in different situations but dogs will be dogs and if not paying attention to signals they give us, and if not monitored properly they can bite out of fear, out of frustration, out of undetected aggression . Education is the solution to widen the horizons about dogs' behavior, dogs' breed characteristics and humans relations and handling of dogs.

  12. Cathy Collinson

    Victoria, you are so correct! Unfortunately, this incident illustrates just how inept and clueless our lawmakers are.
    The world is trying so hard to save tigers, lions, sharks, alligators, etc., yet it's okay to destroy a certain breed of a domesticated animal who is, after all, as much a victim of circumstances as much as that poor baby.
    And where do people get that just because he was gentle with one child he's going to be the same way with other children? Maybe he saw the new baby as a threat to the older child.
    I have an 8 year old rottie/boxer mix named Molly. To my immediate family she is a kind, loving sweetheart, that loves to be petted, baby talked, and scratched. But none of us would EVER leave her with a child. The cost is too great.
    PLEASE PEOPLE! Use common sense! You wouldn't let a 2 year old play with a loaded gun, or leave it alone with a lion or tiger, why in the world would you leave it alone with a 100 lb dog that MIGHT attack it?

  13. Terry Golson

    Thank you, Victoria, for bringing sanity to this issue. I think many dog aggression issues are tied to that "appropriate relationship" that we talked about. People want their pets to be many things that they aren't - true for dogs of course, but also chickens, horses, mini-pigs... sadly, these pet owners are missing the joys of relating to the animals as they truly are AND they're creating dangerous situations. I'll be forwarding your FB post, and I'll be sure to blog about your project as it develops.

  14. Carrie

    I agree except for the part about the dog HAVING to be put down. Why not try to rehome him into a household without children? Would he be to dangerous? IS this just everyones way of solving problems? Put the pets down? When I say "everyone" I mean, present company excluded. =)

  15. Margaret

    Thank you, everything I've read helped me. I had found a pit bulll dog. Young, unspayed female. She was a stray and I helped her home. She had sever behavioral problems but your training tips should help me out so we don't have to give her up. Thank you so much.

  16. Tuesday Smith

    Although I don't think Sharon read this very thoroughly, I still would like to reiterate the stance of not using euthanasia as a solution when the problem is not only unknown but unresearched as well, when the dog could potentially be perfectly fine and have a normal life.

    It's sad that something like this happens in the world. I don't think anyone was really at fault (though the dog may have been, but like you said, we'll never know...) and I totally support furthering education about this category of issues to families around the world.

  17. Zoe

    Wow, I agree. This accident was tragic, however, I believe the dog should not have been euthanzied. We are all human and we make mistakes, some more tragic than others, but dogs have every right to live when they did no intencial harm. I personally believe dogs should have every right as humans to not be euthanized after a complete accident. After all, you don't see people who make mistakes getting killed for accidents!



  19. marta

    I agree with Zoe. It was a tragic event and the dog has no more responsability that the child's parents. It should have been tested and rehabilitated if necessary. Let's not forget that dogs can be unpredictable (just like people) and that most of the times we are unable to see the clues to their next behaviuor. they are neither toys nor nannies so let's respect them as they have the right to a happy and safe life, just like anybody else.

  20. Roxanne Burke

    Please please remember a pit was a breed design to fight bulls, latch on and kill. I think that all dogs are wonderful.
    " BUT" we all need to remember what was the dog was design to do... A hunting dog should belong to a hunting family, a sporting dog needs a job, a working dog needs a job, they were designed to do. If you want a dog to be a companion look at those breeds, that will full fill what you want. People need to realize that dogs were bred for a specific purpose to help man. So choose your dog wisely not what you think is pretty. " Get over yourself " They are a living, loving, loyal creature, that deserves our respect.

  21. Tammy Jones

    I am a owner of a Pit Bull. I have had her since she was 3 months old, and have always from the first day tried to teach her boundaries in home, and also reward her for good behavior with praise and lots of love and attention. I have seen personally people who have Pit Bulls, and do not want to put the time and attention in it takes. I have personally seen without teaching them boundaries and also giving them praise and lots of love they are more tempermental. You can't have a dog just to have it, you have to put alot in, especially when it comes to this breed. There are too many people that "think" they want a Pit, just to have one, not to make them apart of your family. I also have a chiuahua/daushaund mix dog which is small. My Pit plays very easy and gental with her. My smaller dog is more of a bully than the pit. I am careful when someone comes over (especially when there are children) my dogs are trained to go to their pen. I have a very large pen they go in when Im not home and at night, and when certain company comes over. I slowly warm the dogs up to my company. The pen seems like a safe haven for them. Thru the day i can be cleaning house and look and the door of the pen is open and both dogs will be snuggled in there sleeping. Pit Bulls are wonderful dogs that make wonderful pets. They are very misunderstood, but I hold owners responsible when something happens, you must take time and energy to train and LOVE & PRAISE. Plus use common sense! This is a very tragic story that didn't have to happen. Who leaves a baby on the bed why they shower, unsupervised!! My pit is actually more well behaved than my smaller dog, and much easier to teach and train. The problems are not with the Pit Bull breed, its with the owners who don't know how to handle them. There are just as many attacks by other breeds as with Pits, but the media only concentrates on the Pits. My brother was bitten on the nose by a Lab when he was younger just from bending over to pet it. The dog jumped up and gave him a pretty bad bite. These are the stories you never hear about, but if it had been a pit, you would've!!!

  22. Dr. Sophia Yin

    For the person who asked for tips on raising kids and pets, there are two good books out:

    Living with Kids and Dogs: Parenting Secrets for a Safe and Happy Home by Colleen Pelar, and Raising Puppies and Kids Together: A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt.

    Both books (as well as all of my veterinary behavior colleagues) recommend infants and toddlers never be left unsupervised with a pet.

  23. ButterflyMommy

    Victoria, you nailed it in my opinion. As an anti-bsl advocate myself who runs a bsl awareness and education forum, its heart breaking to read all the attacks and fatalities that could have been prevented. You can not punish the whole breed, it doesn't work and we have proved bsl has not worked. My thoughts go out to the families who have lost loved ones or have been traumatized by an animal attack. I myself was attacked as a child by a dog of the very breed I own today, and I am the mother of three small children. It boils down to supervision, training and responsible ownership and parenting. I look forward to hearing about your upcoming project Victoria, keep up the good work and thank you for all you do!

  24. DeLinda

    I'm sorry, the link I posted previously didn't work, so here's the shortened version:

    The link is for the Facebook group "Blame the Deed, Not the Breed!"

    All are welcome to join to discuss the positive side of owning a dog. It's also a place to discuss why BSL doesn't work.

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