Experts warn parents again and again: dogs and babies don’t mix. Many readers may have followed a few stories in the media lately about babies being killed by dogs. A six-day-old baby, an 11-month-old baby and a 4-year-old child all come to mind—each of them from the UK and each of them killed by their family dogs, two of them while they slept. Now a tragedy that no family should have to endure has hit closer to home and taken another innocent life.
Although details are still forthcoming, Tucson mother Breanna Henson, age 30, was charged with child abuse in January following the death of her 8-month-old daughter. Authorities responding to a call at a home near Irvington and Pantano Roads say that Henson told them she found the baby girl unresponsive “with a dog nearby;” Henson was intoxicated when police arrived.
Perhaps nothing in this world is more tragic and heartbreaking than the death of a child, but when that death is 100 percent preventable, it hurts even more. Such is the case when an infant is left unsupervised around a dog—even a family dog with no history of biting.
Dog trainers, safety experts, and even vets agree: never, ever trust a dog with a child. All dogs are capable of killing, and children, particularly babies, have little or no recourse to fend off an attack. While some breeds are more dangerous than others, no breed is safe to be left with a baby or child, ever, even if the dog is well-trained and considered a member of the family, say experts.
But why do dogs seem to target little ones?
Dogs, despite their cuddly demeanor, are animals, pure and simple. Dogs are pack animals, and hierarchy is everything to them. A change in the home—including the arrival of a baby—upsets that hierarchy. The dog may go from being the center of attention to being just a pet. It is not uncommon for dogs to become jealous or emotionally unstable, resulting in a dog bite attack. Dogs may also react negatively to a baby’s cries, since a dog’s hearing is up to 10,000 times as powerful than ours. An unattended crying baby is a huge target for an agitated dog, and many times the dog will target the infant’s face, which is ultimately the source of the crying that he’s hearing.
Is there an easy answer for parents of dogs who find themselves actual parents? Experts say there’s no real “safe zone” as far as an age when it is okay for dogs and kids to be alone together. Making sure the dog is cared for, gets exercise and is fed properly can help, as can training the dog to realize some rooms of the house are off limits. Above all, parents should use common sense by safeguarding their babies at all times when a dog is afoot.
Scott Miller, a vet writing for the Daily Mail says parents can’t grow complacent and must remain vigilant protectors of their children: “We must not think: ‘My dog would never do this. He’s too gentle.’ Sadly, that’s what the families of fatally injured children always say. And then it’s too late.”