dog safety | 

Family of four-month-old Mia O'Connell fatally mauled by rescue dog call for tougher controls

‘(They) knew the hunting thing was in him – he was bred for it and he was handed over to a house with a baby coming into it’

Mia O'Connell. Photo: Provision

Ralph RiegelIndependent.ie

A family left heartbroken after a jealous terrier fatally mauled a four-month-old baby girl has added their voice to demands for a radical overhaul of dog safety regulations in Ireland.

The O'Connell/Woods family warned they don't want any other Irish family to endure their nightmare after the rescue dog somehow gained entry to their Waterford home and savaged infant Mia O'Connell as she slept in a Moses basket in an upstairs bedroom.

It is now hoped that a crackdown on the vetting of adopted/rescue dogs, an extension of banned breeds and greater dog ownership controls will be enacted as 'Mia's Laws'.

Wardens stress there has been an explosion in dog ownership in Ireland since the Covid-19 pandemic – with many dogs housed in unsuitable conditions.

Dog shelters have been swamped by dumped or unwanted pets.

While a small cross-breed terrier was involved in the fatal attack on Mia, dog wardens have been alarmed by an increase in ownership of large, potentially dangerous breeds which are not on Ireland's controlled dog list.

We were not aware when that dog was given (to its owner) that he was given up because he would not hunt – that information was never given to us

Ten main breeds are on the controlled list – but wardens are worried that dogs such as the Belgian Malinois, XL Bully and others don't have specific controls despite a huge increase in their ownership.

Some have argued for the dog licence fee on such potentially dangerous breeds to be increased from €20 to over €100 to reflect the enormous responsibility on owners.

The O'Connell-Woods family want tougher vetting controls on rescue dogs.

A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded last week for Mia O'Connell who was fatally mauled by a small rescue dog called Red as the baby girl slept in a Moses basket at the family home in Clashmore, Co Waterford, on June 6, 2021.

The dog – a terrier-dachshund cross – had previously snapped at little Mia after she was brought home from hospital in March 2021.

Mia's mother, Ella Woods, said 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.

Now, Mia's aunt, Heidi O'Connell, wants to see Ireland's entire dog adoption and vetting system overhauled.

"We were not aware when that dog was given (to its owner) that he was given up because he would not hunt – that information was never given to us," she said.

"It wasn't until (the inquest) that we found out.

"I think it is a big, big thing that a dog was given up for rescue because he wouldn't hunt and that information was never given to us by the (person) who had the dog.

"(They) knew the hunting thing was in him – he was bred for it but he wouldn't do it and he was handed over to a house with a baby coming into it."

Heidi said Ireland needed to see reform of dog ownership regulations.

"There should be more laws put in place to check out the background of a dog and to check where they are coming from and more investigation into it."

"This dog was a small terrier – there was no indication that he was (dangerous). He was not a big dog, like a pit bull or anything like that, vicious or anything like that."

"There were some concerns but never in a million years would you think that anything like this would happen to your family.

"I would ask people to be very, very careful in the future – make sure you know what you are doing and where you are getting the dog from and that he is safe.

"Please think carefully – at the end of the day a dog is an animal and you cannot predict what is going to happen. You don't know what they are going to do. You have to be very vigilant and very careful.

"Ensure your family is safe...Mia was an angel of a baby. She was never crying, always smiling. She was a blessing for us. She brought joy into our lives, so this has been a rough couple of years for us. Nothing will ever be the same without her. We will try to keep her memory intact and remember her.

"But it has been like a nightmare for us."

Heidi said that she "100pc" wanted to see tougher controls on dog ownership.

At the inquest into baby Mia’s death, Cork Coroner Philip Comyn – who is a dog owner – issued a public warning about having dogs in proximity to children and the vulnerable.

"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 – Ella Woods and Rhys O’Connell's first child – was born on February 22, 2021.

On the evening of June 6, 2021, Mia's aunt, Emily, went to an upstairs bedroom of the property to check on little Mia who was sleeping in a Moses basket.

The family insisted that the dog, Red, be kept outside.

Emily 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."

Downstairs, Ella was startled by a scream.

"Emily screamed my name. 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."

If I had known that – that dog would never have set foot in the house

Mia was transferred to Cork University Hospital (CUH) where desperate attempts to stabilise her condition failed.

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

Coroner 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 had previously expressed a wish to have the dog removed after it 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 or managed to get into the bedroom where Mia was sleeping.

Gardaí who attended the scene said they saw the dog, which was red in colour and resembled a fox, outside the house and growling at those present.

The dog was euthanised within days of the tragedy.


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