“Newborn killed after dog attack at home” is the headline that came across my desktop today. As always, I read the media reports with care to understand what the circumstances were and to deduce, if possible, what risks those circumstances might present to others. This is an immeasurable tragedy and my heart goes out to the baby’s family, but maybe we can learn — truly changing parenting behavior and the way we manage dogs with children — as a result.
In this case, the 3-day-old infant, Makayla Darnell, was left in a swing while her mother and grandmother were in the kitchen preparing to feed her. According to the article, “The two women would only have been a few feet away” from the baby. Clearly, proximity alone was not enough. They heard the baby cry and found her severely injured. Details about the swing have not been provided, but I found it interesting to read – once again! – that an infant dog-bite fatality occurred while the baby was in a swing.
In 2006, Albert Y. Chu et al published a paper summarizing 3 case studies of infants killed by dogs while the infants were alone in mobile swings. (Please be warned that the article contains graphic images.) In the first, a 2.5-week-old baby was left in a swing while the parents stepped outside to smoke cigarettes. In the second, parents went to bed while their 3-month-old was left in a swing. The third case was hauntingly similar to today’s news story: a 2.5-week-old infant was left in a swing for a short time while the mother went to prepare a bottle.
Infants should not be left alone even when a dog is not in the home. But when there is a dog, whether one or several, the baby should never, under any circumstances, be left unwatched. This applies whether the baby is fast asleep in a carrier, in a mobile swing taking a nap, or sitting in a play yard (into which dogs can easily jump). And that supervision should be active, intimate and focused. If there is a distraction and that focus is disturbed, the baby should be taken along. This has little to do with breed, or even with size of the dog: even a Pomeranian is capable of doing great harm.
Infant swings are risky because they loll us into believing the babies they contain are safe for the moment. We, the rational, adult caregivers of both dogs and children, need to be more active participants in their safety.