One bite would have killed three-year-old Cody John Anger, and when the pack of Rottweiler dogs set upon the toddler in his Maple Ridge home, death was a certainty.
The jury in a coroner's inquest yesterday concluded that Cody's death was an accident and recommended the Ministry of Health and the province's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals set up a registry to note all serious dog bites.
The jury also recommended the B.C. Ministry of Education and the SPCA set up dog-bite prevention lessons for Grade 3 pupils.
One of the world's foremost dog behavioural experts testified at the five-person jury inquest yesterday that a Rottweiler has the bite strength of 2,000 pounds per square inch.
Three adult Rottweilers, ranging in weight from 70 to 95 pounds were in the room when the toddler was mauled so severely that even medical staff needed trauma counselling after the child's body was brought to the hospital.
The child, who weighed 37 pounds, received multiple puncture wounds all over his body, his jugular veins were severed and his windpipe torn.
"A Rottweiler can knock a man down," said Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. "There is an edginess in the dog's personality and just their size is enough. Rottweilers can weigh about 140 pounds, and they may not be trying to cause difficulty."
Prof. Coren, who has written nine books on the relationship between dogs and humans, said Rottweilers are not recommended for families with kids. The sheer size of the dogs, originally bred to guard butchers' carts while owners were delivering meat, means that even bumping or stepping on a toddler could cause serious injuries, he said.
While Rottweilers as a breed make up 1.5 per cent of all the registered dogs in data kept by the American Kennel Club, Prof. Coren said they account for 16 per cent of all fatal dog bites documented.
Adding to the risks of an attack on Cody was the number of dogs in his family's house at the time. Prof. Coren said having more than one dog doubles the likelihood of a fatal dog attack. However, he dispelled the common myth that dogs in a pack are inherently more dangerous.
Pack-dog mentality is dependent on the actions of the dog considered the leader by the other animals, he said. If the lead dog is not aggressive, the other dogs in the pack will not become aggressive.
Prof. Coren said it is nearly impossible to determine exactly what caused the dogs to attack the boy. The Rottweilers would not attack a sleeping child, so the most likely scenario was the child may have been playing in some way that provoked the dogs into aggression.
Prof. Coren recommended training for dogs and their owners, but said a breed ban would not solve future attacks. About 53 per cent of all fatal dog attacks are on children, and the better route, he said, is education and training.
Sheri Fontaine, the boy's mother, said she is hopeful the jury's recommendations will help other families.
The boy died Dec. 27, 2004, two days after Christmas. Ms. Fontaine said yesterday she is determined never to forget how her son, the youngest of four, spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day playing and laughing with his siblings.
After the attack, the Ministry of Children and Family Development stepped in and put Ms. Fontaine's other three children in foster care.
Since her son's death, Ms. Fontaine, a convicted drug dealer, said her main priority has been trying to regain custody of her remaining children.
In addition to the education program and dog-bite registry, the jury also recommended the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which had been involved in the Fontaine household before the attack, do risk assessments when a family dynamic changes. At the time of the dog attack, Ms. Fontaine's boyfriend lived in the house and some of the dogs belonged to a family friend.
Coroner's counsel Chris Godwin said the recommendations by the jury will be forwarded to the different ministries by the province's chief coroner.
No criminal charges were laid in Cody's death. An RCMP officer had testified there were no grounds for criminal charges. After the fatal mauling, all four dogs were destroyed.