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


  1. A friend is about to write an article about this attack. She is considered an expert on pits and she could be considered the same on goldens. She says there is no doubt in her mind from the pictures that this is a pit mix.

  2. got a link to where your friend will be posting this so i can read it,it looks like a pit mix to me as well
    Have a look at this "Lab"

    1. Interesting. If you're seeing the identical page that I do and see the "similar ads," the dog was advertised as a pit bull mix the first day, and a yellow lab mix the following day.

  3. @anon 6:50 -

    That is a blatant misrepresentation. I have a friend at work who had been looking in the shelters for a dog to adopt, and he showed me several pictures of "lab mixes" they were trying to sell him on. Every single one of them was a pit bull. I understand that shelters are drowning in pit bulls and really want to get rid of some of the backlog, but this whole "Sucker the mark into taking home a pit bull, tee hee" routine - really?

    I'll post updates here when I find out about the other article.

  4. I find it telling that two fatalities in recent weeks by dogs identifying as all pit were not reported by The Huntington Post blogs on AOL but they did try to sneak in a dog attack by a supposed Golden and think we are not smart enough to figure out it was again a pitmix and
    any little bit of pit is enough to ruin a dog .

  5. This so sickening and it just keeps happening because too many people don't realize what they are dealing with. Hard to imagine anyone could sleep through what must have been a lot of horrible noise. I still think the breed should be
    eliminated. Including mixes-breed pits.

  6. Thank you for posting this! You certainly don't have to be an expert on dogs to see the pit bull in this dog. It's no secret that any large dog can do serious damage to an infant, or adult for that matter, but as you stated Labs and Goldens are definitely not known for this. We all know what breed of dog is, and we can clearly see what this dog is mixed with.

    I think it's completely unethical what shelters and rescues are doing, by juking people into taking pit bulls home that they are labeling as "Lab mixes." Maybe they're mixed with Lab, but we can tell they're pit bull mixes. This is an unethical practice and any rescue or shelter that is engaging in this practice should be promptly shut down!

  7. A lot of shelters call pit bulls lab mixes, boxer mixes, greyhound mixes, or just terriers to get people to adopt them. If someone knows that little about dogs, how on Earth could they be considered a suitable owner for a pit bull? This is why we have so many problems with pit bulls - their owners are simply not prepared to handle the dog. They either don't know its a pit, or they know and were misinformed as to what a pit it, or choose to live in denial. Either way, this is extremely dangerous for the adopting family and their neighborhood. I would rather live near dog fighters that understand what a pit bull is and keeps them locked up that a person who insists its all how you raise your lab-mix.

  8. Google dudley labs and goldens (both retrivers) I see no pitbull. I honestly see a nova scotia duck trolling retriver mix to me.

  9. I love the resort to less common breeds. dudley labs are still considered a fault by the AKC and it was only recently that people began purposefully breeding them for their different look (red nose, lips and eye lids).

    And the Nova Scotia Duck tolling TOLLING, not trolling, retriever is another, until recently uncommon breed in the US. There are zero Duck Tolling Retrievers/mixes available for adoption in South Carolina and a total of 29 available in the entire US on Pet Finder. If you look at their muzzle, it is even more slender and pointy than any of the other retrievers.

    The dog may be a golden lab mix, but the wedge shaped head, the wide muzzle and reptilian eyes make me see pit as a strong, strong possibility.

    And you know what else I see? In Merritt Clifton's data, in the last 30 years Goldens were responsible for a total of 2 deaths in all of North America. Last year pit bulls killed a US citizen every 16.5 days on average.

    It IS the breed.

    Great post Jake.

  10. He looks just like my mother and father in law's yellow lab. He is a purebred lab with a 7 generation pedigree behind him. His nose is brick colored like this dog's and his eyes are a lighter shade of brown than my black lab's dark chocolate colored eyes. He is an "English style" lab, though. They tend to be blockier and heavier than the field bred style. The heftier style is becoming more and more preferred in the show ring these days.

  11. That is the dudley coloration you're describing if the dog also has brick colored lips and eye rims. If you'll look at your in-law's dog's tail, it will be relatively fat short exaggerated "otter tail" type - nothing like the dog in question.

    But, I really have to doubt there are very many english style show labrador retrievers getting out and mixing with golden retrievers in South Carolina.

    I do know, however, that south carolina is a dogfighting mecca and is lousy with pits and if someone's golden retriever got out one day, chances are good that the first intact male she encountered would be a pit.

  12. Eh, I think my field bred girl has a more exaggerated otter tail than ILs, but he is also really fat, so that might skew my viewing of him somewhat. I still just don't see pit at all in these pics of the dog.

  13. Everyone has a friend of a friend who knows that this dog is a pit bull mix, blah blah blah.... I live in a neighborhood that has had several dog breeds.Over the years, I have witnessed a neighbor have to fend off a golden retriever attack with a piece of lawn furniture. I have seen a miniature pinscher chase down and bite several people. I have seen an american bulldog chase someone back into their house. People just do not want to believe that a Lab or Golden (known hunting dogs) would do this.

  14. You think that being a hunting dog is associated with aggression? They're retrievers, not hog dogs. geez.

    Once again. In the last 30 years, previous to this attack, zero lab/golden mixes killed anyone. If you add all goldens and their mixes and all labs and their mixes (including 3 lab/pit mixes) Labs and goldens killed a total of 11 people in north america in 30 years.

    Pit bulls and their mixes (including 3 lab pit mixes) killed a total of 219 people.

    The most likely way to get a red nose, wedge shaped head, wide muzzle and a propensity for fatal maulings in south carolina is pit bull blood, not english show lab or nova scotia duck tolling retriever blood.

  15. When did I say my ILs dog is a show dog? He'd most certainly is not and was sold to my ILs on limited registration. The breeder they got him from, while produces nice typical lab personality puppies, does not have a single confo CH in the line. The don't do any health testing. They are a byb. Oh, and he's leash reactive and dog aggressive toward male dogs and little dogs. He met my puppy when my pup was 7 weeks old and only 8 lbs and raised hackles, growled and snapped. Didn't want anything tgo do with him, and it continues this to this day. We gave up on trying to socializing our pup with him. This is a TRUE story. My female lab otoh is a confo wreck (we rescued her from a chaining situation-she has a crossbite and crossed eyes) but she is a sweetheart. She took on the pup in a very motherly way. she is SUPER patient, but a very dominant female. She is the boss in the house and she does resource guard with certain things and cannot actually retrive to save her life. She does not get that in fetch, you are supposed to bring the ball back LOL.

  16. As somebody who has showed dogs for 35 years all over the world, I laugh to see pet owners claiming their mixed-breed dog is a "rare breed" based on photos in a book. "Our shelter adoptee Oscar is obviously a purebred Mudi!--he looked just like the photo we saw online!" So I'm definitely NOT of the opinion that this dog is a Toller mix. The second I saw the photo a few days ago, I thought "Pit / Retriever."

    I work in genetics/bioinformatics, and even the famous dog breed DNA test is unbelievably bad. I'm ashamed to see a Ph.D./DVM putting her name on a study like this: Forget the shelter workers' guesses of parentage. How about the DNA test showing these are mixes of Clumber Spaniel, Tibetan Terrier, Black Russian Terrier, Glen of Imaal Terrier, etc.?

    For readers unfamiliar with these breeds: These are extremely rare breeds world-wide, and virtually 100% of their members are in show homes in controlled breeding programs.

    Exactly how many Clumber Spaniels are wandering the back alleys of America and impregnating unattended Great Danes (as one photo suggests)? The dog breed DNA test is barely in the "beta test" stage and certainly isn't reliable by any stretch of the imagination.

    The only (mostly) reliable test is if the parents are both known, registered purebreds. As a fundraiser for Border Collie rescue in 2005, I found photos of dogs who had two known purebred parents, one of which was a Border Collie. I then made a poster with about 40 or so of the photos and challenged long-time Border Collie owners/competitors to "bet" on what the other breed was to win a prize. I think the winner (out of 100+ people) guessed something like 8-9 of them correctly, and that was with one known parent. Even an F1 cross can look virtually nothing like either parent.

    A BC + Irish Setter looked like a purebred Gorden Setter. A BC + Shih Tzu looks like a purebred mini Schnauzer. A BC + Pug looks like a purebred "Phaelene" (drop-eared) Papillon.

    So since guessing and DNA don't work, what does? Sue Sternberg, a shelter dog expert (and enemy of the pit nutters) says this: she recommends that any family adopting an unknown mix get one < 18 months old AND < 30 lb. estimated adult weight for best luck in avoiding a dangerous dog. The size requirement alone will rule out almost all pit bulls.

    I highly recommend her book "Successful Dog Adoption" for anybody who wants to learn how to read between the lines of adoption ads. Sue lets you know all the tricks used to hide shaky temperaments, likelihood that the dog has bitten in a previous home, etc.

  17. I also wanted to add something... While the result is equally devastating, I think there is a difference in "motive" between a dog attacking a child or adult, and a dog attacking a very young infant.

    I'm not convinced that dogs know infants are human. Why? Because even the most kid-hating dogs normally show no reaction at all to infants. There seems to be a "magic switch" once the baby begins walking that the dog treats the kid as a human. (He may love it or hate it at that point--but will react differently than he did to an infant).

    This is solely my guess, not based on any facts whatsoever... but I think dogs mauling a very small baby may be more motivated by toy/play drive than the typical fear/fight-drive/overt aggression dogs can display to a walking toddler. Because I compete seriously in dog sports, my own dogs are complete tug fanatics. My 8 lb. Papillon will play tug all day, and will hang from a tug toy with the tenacity of a pit bull. Like many dogs, he gets very hyped up with squeaky toys, and will look for a hidden squeaky toy persistently until he finds it and shreds it.

    While I'm sure my dog would never maul a baby (for one, his teeth are about 1/4 of an inch long), I can see that a dog with poor self control... or a bouncy, testosterone-fueled adolescent... could tear apart a screaming infant with all the exhuberance of a dog ripping the stuffing out of a squeaky toy.

    Does this dog still need a dirt nap? Definitely. However, I wonder whether this kind of infant mauling couldn't be done by a high-drive sporting or herding dog as much as by a pit bull. I haven't looked at stats for infant maulings/fatalies (as opposed to toddler or older)--that's the way to get the real story. However, the famous "Pomeranian fatality" often cited by pit bull nutters comes to mind.

    I do agree that this dog looks like a Pit / Retriever mix, but I might also be biased from spending a lot of time on websites like this one,, Craven Desires, etc. :-) Whatever the breed, things went wrong on many levels. I'm assuming the father was drunk, since he slept through the whole thing. Baby was left unattended with a newly-adopted large dog, etc. That said, the baby would likely NOT have suffered a fatality if left with a newly-adopted Beagle, Sheltie, Chihuahua, purebred Golden, etc...

  18. This is the first I've seen a pic of this dog. It looks like no Golden Retriever I've ever seen. It DOES however, look like it's got some pit in it.

  19. Not all dogs look alike,I would say that that is a Golden Retriever. Lighter colored and heavier built ones are sometimes bred for. Denying a breed you like attacked someone is just as bad as what the Pit nutters say.


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