Dog trainer Mary Papik has heard many horrific stories of newborn babies being seriously injured or killed by a family pet. Most times, those cases have involved a pit bull, Doberman, Husky, Akita, or another large dog breed considered by some to be aggressive — but not always.
“We’ve even heard of Yorkies mauling kids in car seats,” said Papik, who with her husband Ron teaches classes on newborn and pet safety at Animal Friends.
The shelter in Ohio Township offers those free “ Baby-Ready Pets” safety workshops every month to assist parents in making those preparations. Its next open class is scheduled for March 21.
In their classes, one of the biggest messages the Papiks try to drive home is to never leave a pet with a child in the same room without an adult. Leaving an infant alone with a dog may have been a factor in the death of a newborn earlier this week in McKeesport, according to news accounts.
“When you first come home from the hospital, there is a routine we recommend, but multiple times through the class we tell people, ‘You absolutely have to supervise the pets around the child at all times,’ ” Papik said.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a McKeesport mother told police she had left her 3-day-old son unattended in a carrier for just minutes Thursday morning. She said she returned to find him with bite wounds, bleeding on her living room floor and her pet husky hovering over him, according to the newspaper.
A pit bull and the husky — two of four dogs in the house — were running loose around the screaming child, but police believe the husky mauled newborn Howard Nicholson because there was blood on the dog’s face, the Post Gazette reported
The baby was flown to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and later pronounced dead.
The child's death remains under investigation, but "initial findings indicate that there were no crimes committed leading up to and contributing to the death of the baby," said Mike Manko, a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
Papik said some might believe this was a malicious attack by the dog, but she noted that dogs have a natural tendency to use their mouths to pick up and carry around their own puppies. She said the dog may have been trying to pick up the baby from its carrier, causing the traumatic injury.
“A 2-day old baby is way too tender to be able to handle that dog bite,” she said.
Papik said she’s heard these stories “more often than we’d like to think about.” She said not every case is reported, but when they are, the pet is often euthanized.
“Unfortunately, many times they are put down,” she said.
The Papiks have been teaching the class for at least seven years. The one-time workshop takes about two hours and is offered in the evenings. Couples expecting babies are encouraged to take the class, but anyone is welcome, including grandparents.
Private consultations also are available for people who can’t make the class or for a group of people who want to get together for a session.
Cats are also a topic of discussion in the classes. Although Papik said it’s an old wives tale that cats will climb on babies to smother them for milk, it’s true that cats also need to be watched.
“A 7-pound baby can’t breathe with a 12-pound cat on top of them,” she said.
The Papiks have owned multiple dogs and are members of Animal Friends’ behavior team, so they tend to work with dogs that have behavior issues. This helps when teaching the class because those attending can ask questions and they are better able to understand what is motivating the dog, Papik said.
Sometimes they recommend that people with problem pets attend private consultations with professional, certified behavior consultants who work with Animal Friends. Rarely is it suggested that an animal be euthanized, she said
“In rare cases it will lead to that suggestion, but it’s not something we make lightly,” she said.
Animal Friends offers the free pet safety workshop “ Baby-Ready Pets,” every month to assist parents in making the preparations.
Seating is limited and advance registrations are required via the Animal Friends University page at www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.
Upcoming Baby-Ready Pets Classes:
Date: Wednesday, May 16
Time: 7 pm - 8:30 p.m.
To learn more, call Animal Friends at 412-847-7000.