African painted dogs that killed a young boy only two weeks ago are featured in a calendar sent out by the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Maddox Derkosh, 2 years old, was mauled to death when he fell into the wild dog exhibit.
Zoo officials struggled with the decision in part because they had already mailed out some of the holiday calendars when Maddox died, zoo President Barbara Baker told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“We wrestled with that one quite a bit,” she said. “We had the calendars available before the accident occurred.”
Baker also said the family is in the thoughts and prayers of zoo staff, but “African painted dogs are a wonderful endangered species” and, even after the terrible death, “they are animals we’re responsible for taking good care of.”
It’s unclear how putting the dogs in the calendar -- priced at $14.95 and complete with holiday greetings -- helps the survival of the animals. The decision to move forward with the calendars comes after 800 people attended the funeral on Nov. 9 and thousands of people attended a benefit for the Derkosh family. Still, public relations experts agreed the decision to move forward with the calendar was probably the wrong one.
“I think they would have gained more appreciation from their members if they’d sent a letter saying that the calendar they printed included (a picture of the dogs) and they decided it would be inappropriate to send it out in light of this month’s tragedy,” Brad Philips, president of New York PR firm Philips Media Relations, told the Tribune-Review.
The attack came around 11:45 a.m. on Nov. 4. Maddox fell 14 feet from the observation deck into the exhibit when the dogs sprung upon him. Each dog is about the size of a medium sized domestic dog and weighed between 37 and 80 pounds. Staff tried to stop the animals with dart guns, but Baker said at the time they “were in a pack mentality.”
Reuters reported the boy's mother will not be charged with any wrongdoing in the incident but the zoo could face legal trouble. If that’s the case, Denver-based public relations consultant Steven Silvers said the calendar wouldn’t help.
“The best option would’ve been to cancel these things,” he said. “This is the kind of thing an overwhelmed, grieving institution can understandably overlook. The problem is that sensitivities are at a very, very high level right now.”