tragedy | 

Four-month-old Waterford girl fatally mauled by rescue dog after it became jealous, court hears

Little Mia’s Grandmother had previously pleaded with her partner to get rid of the dog

Mia O'Connell

The late Mia O'Connell’s aunt Heidi O’Connell and father Rhys O'Connell pictured at Cork Coroner’s court.

Gardaí at the house in Clashmore, Co Waterford, where Mia O'Connell died. PA© PA


A coroner issued a stark warning over the dangers posed by dogs to young children after an inquest into the death of a four-month-old girl who was fatally mauled as she slept by the family's pet terrier.

Cork Coroner Philip Comyn recorded a verdict of death by misadventure for Mia O'Connell who was fatally mauled by a rescue dog called 'Red' as she slept in a Moses basket at the family home in Clashmore, Co Waterford on June 6, 2021.

Mr Comyn explained he was opting for a misadventure verdict after hearing that the dog – a terrier-Dachshund cross – had previously snapped at little Mia after she had been brought home from the maternity unit at University Hospital Waterford in March 2021.

The inquest heard evidence from Mia's mother, Ella Woods, that she always "felt uncomfortable" when the dog was anywhere near her daughter – while Mia's grandmother, Noreen O'Connell, said she had repeatedly asked her partner, Barry, who had re-homed the dog, to get rid of it after it had tried to snap at the little girl.

Mr Comyn said it was vital that lessons were learned from the tragedy.

He urged all dog owners to be conscious of the dangers posed by even the most friendly of pets to children and the vulnerable.

The inquest heard that the terrier was apparently jealous of the little girl and the attention she had taken from him in the family home.

"What can we learn from this terrible tragedy," Mr Comyn said.

"At the end of the day a dog, even a beloved family pet, is still an animal and can still be unpredictable."

Mr Comyn urged all pet owners to enforce "extreme vigilance" to ensure children and the vulnerable were properly protected at all times.

Mia was the daughter and first child of young couple Ella Wood and Rhys O'Connell.

She was born on February 22 2021.

The late Mia O'Connell’s aunt Heidi O’Connell and father Rhys O'Connell pictured at Cork Coroner’s court.

Mia's aunt, Emily, was visiting her sister, Ella, in Clashmore on June 6. Rhys O'Connell was not present in the property that evening.

The inquest heard that the terrier – which was red in colour and resembled a fox – was kept outside the house and slept in a kennel in an alley by the side of the family home.

Whenever the dog slipped inside the house, it was immediately ushered back outside.

Mia was teething and was fed and put to bed on the evening of June 6 with her relatives eating downstairs.

Her aunt, Emily, went to check on her and her own son, Jaden, that evening and was horrified to discover the infant lying on the bedroom floor with 'Red' standing over her.

"Emily screamed my name," Ella explained in a statement given to gardaí.

Mia's mother was too upset to attend the inquest.

"I had never heard her scream like that. When I got up to the landing I saw Emily on the landing holding Mia. Emily screamed: 'It was the dog, it was the dog.' I saw the dog on the landing."

"The dog's face was covered in blood – it was disgusting."

Emily told the inquest she had gone to check on Mia who had been put to bed in a Moses basket – and was horrified to see the child lying in the middle of the bedroom floor with the dog standing over her.

"Mia was in the middle of the room. The dog Red was behind her. He was just standing there. There was blood all over his mouth."

Gardaí Waterford Fire Brigade and paramedics raced to the scene and Mia was transferred to Cork University Hospital (CUH) where desperate attempts to stabilise her condition failed.

Mia was pronounced dead at CUH in the early hours of June 7.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster conducted a post mortem examination and found that Mia died from severe brain trauma due to fractures to the skull and multiple lacerations consistent with an animal attack involving a dog.

The inquest heard that, when found, Mia was bleeding heavily from the back of her head with deep lacerations visible.

Her aunt, Emily, had tried to staunch the blood loss by holding a cloth to the child's head.

Dr Bolster noted that an infant's skull is relatively pliable and would fracture given such an attack.

Mia's father, Rhys O'Connell, queried whether his daughter would have suffered.

"It would have been very quick – she would not have felt any pain," Dr Bolster said.

The inquest heard that the dog had been re-homed by Barry, Mia's grandfather and Noreen O'Connell's partner.

Mr Comyn was told the dog had apparently refused to hunt for its previous owner - something that caused enormous distress to Rhys O'Connell, his sister, Heidi, and their mother, Noreen.

The family insisted they were never aware that the dog had once been hunted.

"If I had known that – that dog would never have set foot in the house," Rhys O'Connell said.

Noreen O'Connell said she wanted the dog removed once it had previously snapped at her granddaughter.

"I pleaded with Barry to get rid of that dog… I hated that dog," Noreen O'Connell said.

The family had no idea how the dog gained entry to the house that evening and managed to get into the bedroom where Mia was sleeping.

Gardaí who attended the scene said they saw the dog outside the house and growling at those present.

The dog was euthanised within days of the tragedy.

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