Sunday, April 22, 2012

A tragic death

It was the sort of news you never want to get. The discovery of an infant mauled to death by a family pet is a surreal, nightmarish experience no parent should ever have to endure. Aiden McGrew, 2 months old, of Ridgeville, South Carolina, was killed and dismembered by a family pet April 20th while his father slept in the next room.

Dogs being removed from the home after the attack

When I first heard this horrible news, I was surprised to read that the dog was identified as a Golden Retriever or some sort of Retriever mix. While any large dog could be deadly under the right circumstances, attacks by large Retrievers tend to be at the level of statistically insignificant background noise when compared to the monotonous daily toll of attacks on humans by certain other types of dogs. While I was puzzling over how a soft-mouthed Retriever could be responsible for this sort of gruesome attack, a friend pointed out that the dog doesn't look anything like a Golden or a Lab.

This is a Golden Retriever

   In particular, the eyes, the nose and the snout of the attacking dog, shown below, differ significantly from the Golden, above. Have you ever seen a red-nosed retriever? Based on the hair and the general body shape, there could be some Golden Retriever in this dog, but what constitutes the remainder of its genetic blueprint? Once you look past the long hair and study the face in more detail, a different aspect becomes apparent. My own opinion is based in part on 30 years of US dog attack records, but there is no concrete proof one way or the other.

This is the dog that killed Aiden

The bottom line is that nobody knows the full story on this dog. There have been instances of a rare genetic defect in Golden Retrievers that can cause impulse aggression, but GR breeders have been working hard to eradicate the defect. Of course, the behaviour of this dog could also be accounted for by the genetic influence of fighting breeds in which this type of aggression is considered a valuable trait.

Without indulging in undue speculation, all we can really say is that the ancestry and background of this dog is unknown. Ultimately, this serves as a grim reminder that when choosing a dog as a family pet, you owe it to yourself and to your family to know exactly what you're getting. If the dog has genes from pit fighting breeds, even if you think you know it well, even if it seems perfectly docile, that DNA could manifest itself at any random moment, with tragic results.

Infant mauled to death by family pet