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Infant bitten to death by family's pet husky

RCMP officer Tony Hamori speaks to the media about the death of a newborn infant killed by a dog in Airdrie, Alta., on Feb. 16, 2012.

Jeff McIntosh/Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Neighbours once charmed by the sight of huskies pulling a sled around their Calgary-area suburb were horrified to learn that one of these well-trained pets bit the family's newborn son so seriously he died of his injuries.

RCMP in Airdrie, about 30 kilometres north of Calgary, said Thursday that no charges are being considered, and the dog – now quarantined for 10 days – does not have a troublesome past. The family, which owns a dog-sledding equipment company that boasts four Siberian huskies, also has a 2 1/2-year-old son.

Neighbours of Rob and Rhonda Fradette, who own Urban Mushers, said the dogs were always quiet. The attack happened about 10 a.m. Wednesday, and paramedics and police who rushed to the two-storey home found an infant who had been attacked by a dog. The baby died roughly 12 hours later at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary.

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Erica Wollen, who has two preschoolers, said what happened on her street is unnerving. "It's horrible. I can't even imagine the devastation and for it to be your own animal," she said. "It would just be devastating because I'm sure they trusted their dog."

Urban Mushers' website says the family has four dogs – Spot, Siku, Ikkuma and Celine. It is unclear which of them bit the baby. Last month, they finished third in a four-mile race at a sled dog derby in Elkford, B.C. The four dogs are registered and the Fradettes knew their bloodlines.

Deaths caused by dog attacks are exceedingly rare. But experts and police reminded pet owners that even the best trained dogs are still unpredictable.

Kris Brown, vice-president of the Siberian Husky Club of Canada, said that traditionally huskies have been "aloof," but in the past 20 years they've been bred for good quality temperament. However, they have a "high prey drive."

"[Huskies]do have an instinct to kill," she said. "It depends on the situation. A small baby crying – a newborn baby – sounds very much like a cat … mewing."

She has simple advice: "Never trust any animal with a newborn baby – ever, ever, ever – bottom line."

Occupants at the Fradette house declined to speak to media, and left.

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RCMP Inspector Tony Hamori would not provide details of the attack, but said a parent was home when the incident occurred. An RCMP psychologist has been called in to support emergency responders.

"We do not feel there's anything criminal in nature. No charges are being considered at this point in time," Insp. Hamori said. "Unfortunately, it's just a very tragic accident."

Darryl Poburan, Airdrie's manager of municipal enforcement, said the family will have input into the dog's fate – whether it is euthanized or returned to them. The decision could end in court.

"We want to do the right thing for the family. We want to do the right thing for the dog," Mr. Poburan said.

In 2010, a three-week-old infant, left alone in a baby seat on the floor in a Quebec home, was fatally mauled by one of two huskies in the home. The child's mother, now 19, is facing charges, including manslaughter and failure to provide basic care.

Last August, a toddler was killed by two large dogs in Saskatchewan.

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And in 2007, a B.C. coroner's inquest into the 2004 mauling death of three-year-old boy by one or more Rottweilers while his mother was sleeping, recommended education programs to "bite-proof" children and teach parents about how to tend to pets.

Some jurisdictions have bans against certain dog breeds, such as pit bulls.

Professional pet-sitter Jaimie Rosteski, who was walking two Dobermans in the Fradette's Airdrie neighbourhood Thursday, said dogs can get jealous, resent newborns, want food or a toy, or something else can set them off.

"I hate breed profiling," said Ms. Rosteski, who has a two-year-old son and a husky. "We have about 600-plus clients and the only dog that I've ever had a problem with is a Chihuahua. A dog is essentially a wild animal at heart, and you just never know what could happen. I don't blame those parents at all."

With a report from Carrie Tait in Calgary

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Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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