A coroner has urged dog owners to be vigilant to the possibility that their pets can turn violent out of jealousy after hearing that a four-month-old was attacked and killed by a dog who pulled the infant from her basket.
Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn said the death of Mia O’Connell following the incident at her family’s home on St Mochua’s Terrace in Clashmore, Co Waterford on the night of June 6th, 2021 was a terrible tragedy.
Mr Comyn returned a verdict of misadventure as he believed there had been a missed opportunity to prevent the incident. He said it was clear that the Dachshund-Terrier cross named Red had previously tried to snap at Mia when she first arrived into the home.
“It is clear from the evidence that this dog was unhappy with the arrival of baby Mia,” he said. “In his first contact with Mia, he reacted in a manner that should have alerted everybody, including the dog owner, that he should not have been around children, certainly not unattended.
“As someone who grew up with dogs and has two dogs, I fully appreciate the benefit of dogs and the companionship they provide but dogs are still animals and can be unpredictable. This is particularly the case where the dog’s position in the home is displaced by a new arrival.”
He said “people need to be vigilant and aware of the dangers of dogs and they need to educate themselves to how dogs can be aggressive”.
Mia’s mother, Ella Wood (20), did not attend the inquest but said in a statement that she was living with her partner Rhys O’Connell (32), his mother Noreen O’Connell and her partner Barry Dillon at their house when the incident happened.
She said Mia was born at University Hospital Waterford on February 22nd, 2021, a few weeks prematurely, but had then thrived. When they returned home, her parents used to leave Mia to sleep in a Moses basket in her own room or in a cot in the room Ms Wood shared with Mr O’Connell.
She said Mr Dillon got Red, a rescue dog, after his other dog passed away. She said she never liked the animal as she believed he was very anxious. The dog lived outside and would come into the house but they would shoo him out, she said.
Ms Wood said her sister Emily (26) and nephew Jadon (6) came to stay with them in June 2021 to help her with the baby. On the night in question, they were sitting out on the patio and Emily went upstairs to check on Jadon and Mia, who was asleep in the Moses basket in her room.
“I was downstairs, I heard Emily scream my name,” Ms Wood said. “I had never heard her scream like that before. I went flying up the stairs….Emily was on the landing, she was holding my baby, Mia, in her arms. I could see blood down one side of Mia’s face, on the back of her head and on her clothes.
“I could not fully see the back of Mia’s head as Emily was holding a muslin cloth to her head. Emily said it was the dog that did it. I saw the dog somewhere on the landing, I’m not sure where but the dog’s face was covered in blood. It was disgusting.”
Blood all over
Emily Wood told the inquest she saw the upturned basket and Mia on the floor after being attacked by the dog.
“The dog was standing behind her, standing there as he had already done it. There was blood all over the dog’s mouth.”
The women brought Mia downstairs and Ms O’Connell put her on a coat on the table and started applying pressure to try and stop the bleeding while also performing CPR.
Ms O’Connell said they had to call several times before an ambulance arrived and paramedics worked on Mia before she was taken to Cork University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 3.16am on June 7th, 2021.
She said the dog had started snapping at Mia when Ms Wood and Mr O’Connell brought her from hospital in February and she was concerned and unhappy about the fact the animal was around the house.
Sgt Tom Gahan, who investigated Mia’s death, said that when he arrived at the scene on the night Ms O’Connor was shouting at Mr Dillon. He recalled her saying ‘I f***ing told you to get rid of that dog. I told you, I told you’. He said Mr Dillon replied ‘I know, I know’. The dog was euthanised the next day.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said Mia suffered extensive lacerations and puncture wounds to the scalp as well as crush and fracture injuries to her skull.
The crush and fracture injuries were so severe that Mia would have lost consciousness almost immediately, said Dr Bolster, who confirmed the cause of death was traumatic brain injury with haemorrhage and shock from scalp lacerations consistent with a dog attack.
Mr Comyn extended his sympathies to Mia’s family, saying that it was a terrible tragedy but if there was any comfort he could offer them, it lay in Dr Bolster’s assurance that Mia lost consciousness almost immediately and would not have suffered.
Commenting on the inquest, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said it was a “harrowing” case and that “our hearts go out to the family”. He said “stronger regulation” surrounding dogs was needed and Minister for Agrciulture Charlie McConalogue was working on this.
Minister for Justice Simon Harris said that what happened to the family was a “heartbreaking situation”.
He said a review of existing legislation was ongoing and that the way in which this is enforced is also being examined.
“This work is being led by my colleagues, Minister McConalague and Minister [Heather] Humphreys and my department and An Garda Síochana will participate in full so that we end up with modern robust legislation,” he said.