Toddler killed, grandmother mauled in attack by family dogs

2 dogs surrendered to Alachua County Animal Services to be euthanized

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – A toddler was killed and his grandmother was injured in an attack by the family's dogs on Friday morning at a home near High Springs, authorities said.

It happened about 10:30 a.m. at a home on Northwest 210th Avenue, just west of Interstate 75 and about 30 miles northwest of Gainesville. 

Warning: This story and the video above contain graphic details.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, two dogs living at the home attacked two family members -- a 2-year-old boy and a woman. Deputies said the 2-year-old died from his injuries at the house and the woman, who was identified as the boy's grandmother, was taken to an area hospital with serious injuries. They said she's expected to be OK. 

“This (is) an incredible tragedy for the family involved,” Lt. Brett Rhodenizer, with the Sheriff's Office, said in a news release. “Our investigation will ultimately determine the facts that led up to the attack, but no answers will ever make up for the loss of a child.” 

Alachua County Animal Services spokesman Ed Williams told WJCB-TV at a news conference Friday afternoon that the residence is owned by the toddler's aunt, though the boy's grandmother was there taking care of him and the dogs at the time of the attack.

The Sheriff's Office told News4Jax that the grandmother and her grandson go to the house to let the dogs out every day, but on Friday, the boy was in the backyard when two of the dogs got out. The Sheriff's Office said the grandmother was outside briefly then went indoors to get additional dog food for the animals and did not hear anything. When she came back out, according to deputies, she realized her grandson was being mauled by the two dogs and she fought them off with a shovel. 

“This is a very common place for them. It’s not unusual," Rhodenizer said. "She couldn’t see the 2-year-old and she couldn’t see the dogs. There’s a small outbuilding in the backyard of this residence and she heard something from that building. She went there and the dogs were actually attacking the boy at that point.”

The Sheriff's Office later released audio of the chilling 911 call made by the grandmother. 

Dispatcher: “OK, is this a dog attack?”
Caller: “What?"
Dispatcher: “You’ve been attacked by a dog?”
Caller: “Yes. Me and a 2-year-old. I think he’s dead, please hurry.”
Dispatcher: “A 2-year-old?”
Caller: “Yes!”

Photo shows the backyard of a home on NW 210th Avenue where deputies responded Friday morning to a dog attack. (Photo courtesy: Alachua County Sheriff's Office)

Williams said Animal Services responded to the scene shortly after the attack and made sure all the dogs were properly contained so that no one was in any immediate danger. At the request of law enforcement, Animal Services waited until detectives and the forensics unit arrived before removing six dogs from the residence. Williams said the dogs, which all belonged to the family, were housed in large, clean crates in multiple rooms and they appeared healthy and in good condition. 

According to Williams, it was later discovered that only two of the dogs were fenced in the backyard when the attack occurred, and the owner surrendered those two dogs -- described as an American Staffordshire mix and a chocolate Lab mix -- to Animal Services. According to Animal Services, those dogs will be held for 10 days for rabies evaluation, because the grandmother was injured, and then euthanized.

“I think at this point, we don’t know what precipitated the attack in the first place," Williams said.

The remaining four dogs will be held until the completion of the investigation. Investigators said they ran a background check to see if there had been previously reported problems with the dogs, but the results came back negative.

Members of the Alachua County Crisis Team have responded to assist the family, along with officers with the neighboring High Springs and Alachua police departments. The 2-year-old's name was not immediately released.

Previous fatal dog attacks in Northeast Florida

Since 2007, News4Jax has reported on five previous fatal dogs attacks.

In 2016, a Jacksonville man was attacked and killed by a pack of dogs, investigators said. 

In 2012, 17-month-old Dylan Andres, of Jacksonville, returned home with his mother from the store and, as she was unloading groceries, the boy wandered into a neighbor's yard, where a Rottweiler was chained. Police said it mauled the boy fatally. 

In 2011, a man was killed by pit bulls in Putnam County, investigators said.

In 2010, 3-day-old Justin Valentin was attacked by the family's pit bull in Arlington and died.

In 2007, 42-year-old Tina Canterbury, of Middleburg, was attacked and killed by her two pit bulls. She had raised them from puppies. The family had no idea what happened. They came home to find her dead.

About the Authors:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4Jax in March 2016.

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.