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Trigger for attack possibly food

Food might have been the trigger that caused a family dog to fatally maul a 2-year-old boy last week, Las Vegas police said Tuesday.

Alexander Adams’ grandmother was walking with the dog’s food bowl into a room where the dog, a pit bull or pit bull mix, was normally fed, officer Bill Cassell said.

Alexander followed his grandmother into the room, and that is when the attack happened, he said.

Police might never know with certainty what triggered the attack, but Cassell said the food might have been the cause.

“While it’s possible that the presence of food, combined with the young victim in the area where the dog was normally fed, triggered the attack, there is nothing definitive that can be determined,” Cassell said.

The boy was dead by the time medical responders arrived. The grandmother, who was watching Alexander and his younger brother while their parents were away, suffered minor injuries.

Las Vegas Animal Control officers seized the dog and another pit bull at the home after the Nov. 26 attack, which happened in a single-story house on the 6200 block of Warm River Road, near Washington Avenue and Jones Boulevard.

Police have largely wrapped up their investigation and are submitting the results to the Clark County district attorney’s office to see whether charges are warranted, Cassell said.

After the dogs no longer are needed by police as evidence, Cassell said, animal control officials will determine what to do with them.

Food often can trigger instinctual aggression in dogs, not just in pit bulls, experts said, but proper training can wean them of that instinct.

“You never put anybody between a dog and their food,” said Dr. David Henderson, a veterinarian.

Animal behavioral specialist Dave Hauser, who has been training dogs for 33 years and runs the local company Caring Canine Communications, said wolves and other pack animals related to dogs are very aggressive with each other when it comes to food. Wild dogs have a social order whereby dogs lower on the social order are not allowed to feed until the alpha dogs have eaten.

“It’s very, very common that food is a trigger for aggression,” Hauser said.

Training the dogs and making them feel comfortable around people during eating is up to the owner, Hauser said.

Henderson, owner of Sunrise Veterinary Clinic, said most people do not understand what their dogs are capable of.

“It’s pure instinct. They play by different rules than you and I,” he said.

He added: “Anybody in the family is another dog in the pack. Take a look at wolves. They kill each other all the time.”

It was not known whether animal control authorities had ever previously dealt with the dogs in this latest case. City of Las Vegas spokeswoman Diana Paul said animal control officials would not be answering any questions regarding the case, and she forwarded all questions to Las Vegas police.

Cassell said Las Vegas police had never been called out to the house before last week’s mauling.

It was the second fatal mauling of a child by a pit bull in three months. In September, a 4-month-old girl was killed while being watched by her grandmother.

One of the family’s two pit bulls opened a sliding glass door and attacked the baby while she was in a stroller, according to the district attorney’s office.

The dogs were shot to death by North Las Vegas police. No charges were filed in the case.

Pit bulls aren’t necessarily more aggressive than other dogs, Hauser and Henderson said. They just do a lot more damage than other dogs do when they attack.

“When they do go off and bite and attack, they don’t stop,” Henderson said. “They have the bite strength and the instincts to finish the job.”

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

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