Closed for good: The zoo is right on the African painted dogs

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The decision by the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium to close the African painted dogs exhibit and send the animals to other zoos is unfortunate, but necessary.

The tragedy that occurred last November when a 2-year-old boy was fatally mauled after falling from the observation deck into the dogs' area would have cast a lingering shadow across the exhibit if the zoo had continued it. Although the nightmarish scene will not pass for the toddler's family, it has a chance to fade from the public memory now that the zoo has announced it will use the space in a different way.

The Allegheny County district attorney's office closed its investigation into the incident after no criminal conduct was revealed.

The 10 painted dogs have not been on display since the accident and four have already been shipped to other zoos. Barbara Baker, the zoo's president, said it's possible that a painted dog exhibit will be part of a new project that will focus on threatened and endangered species. That's good news because the painted dogs are endangered in southern Africa and only 3,000 remain in the wild -- and part of a zoo's mission is to educate the public about the plight of such animals.

Dr. Baker said that the zoo community and the Pittsburgh community "need time to heal" after the awful episode last year. She's right about that, and an important first step is to send Pittsburgh's painted dogs to new homes elsewhere and reclaim the space for more than a dark memory.



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