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Newborn baby boy is mauled to death by family dog, an American Staffordshire terrier-mix

Newborn baby boy is mauled to death by family dog, an American Staffordshire terrier-mix
Polo, the Staffordshire terrier who authorities said bit and killed a baby after being startled. (San Diego County Department of Animal Services)

A family dog fatally mauled a 3-day-old boy in front of his parents at their home in the Mira Mesa neighborhood, police said Friday.

The couple was in bed, watching TV, with their newborn when the mother coughed, startling the pit bull mix, according to Sgt. Tu Nguyen of the San Diego Police Department's child abuse unit.

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The dog reacted by biting the baby.

The parents pulled the animal off and raced the infant to a hospital, where he was declared dead.

"At this time it appears to be a tragic accident," Nguyen said. "It's such a horrific, tragic case." An autopsy will be conducted to confirm the cause of death.

Child abuse detectives were called to the Esplanade Apartments about 8 p.m. Thursday, and county animal control officers came to remove the dog. The owners were not home at the time, said Dan DeSousa, deputy director of the county Department of Animal Services.

It is a 2-year-old, neutered male American Staffordshire terrier-mix named Polo, DeSousa said. He said the dog would be held in 10-day quarantine to determine whether it has rabies. After that it will be up to the owner to decide whether to reclaim the dog, he said.

A resident who lives in the apartment complex said she didn't know the couple but regularly saw the then-pregnant woman walking the dog.

"It's terrible. It breaks my heart," Midalia Hernandez said in Spanish, with tears in her eyes. "I would never want to go through something like that."

Hernandez has a 1-year-old son.

According to experts, even the tamest family dog can change behavior when a baby is brought home; parents are warned to never leave young children alone with dogs, especially on the floor.

"Dogs can become agitated by the sounds and movements of a baby. Dogs have been known to try to move a baby by carrying the baby in their mouths the way a mother dog might do with her puppies. Other dogs have hurt babies because the baby moves and sounds like prey," according to the nonprofit Doggone Safe, which aims to prevent dog bites through education and victim support.

Officials said the dog would eventually be put down unless the family fights to keep it alive.

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Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Union-Tribune staff writers Kristina Davis and David Hernandez contributed to this report.

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