Infant snatched from crib by dog remains in critical condition

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2009 

NICHOLASVILLE — The father of the newborn baby taken from a crib by a pet dog said Tuesday that the animal will not return to his Jessamine County house.

Meanwhile, Alexander James Smith, son of Michael and Chrissie Smith of Nicholasville, remains in critical condition at University of Kentucky Hospital. Michael Smith said his son has a cracked skull and cracked ribs — and had one collapsed lung and one partially collapsed lung — but has stabilized and appears to be improving.

In a press conference Tuesday at UK, Michael Smith called the ordeal a nightmare, and he said it might not have happened at all had he been able to fully prepare the house for the infant's arrival.

As it turned out, the baby was born Friday, three weeks early, and arrived home Sunday.

The father discovered that the baby was missing about 1 p.m. Monday. Smith said he was about to get a baby monitor, latches and other items that might have prevented the dog from getting past an inadvertently unlocked door. Dakota's sister, Nikita, can open doors on her own, he said.

"It will haunt me because that was my child," Michael Smith said.

Jessamine County Deputy Sheriff Anthony Purcell said Dakota, a Native American Indian dog, was large enough to stand on its hind feet and remove the infant from a crib. The sheriff's office is investigating, but no charges have been filed, Chief Deputy Allen Peel said.

On Monday afternoon, Michael Smith said his wife had just put Alexander — known as "A.J." to his parents — in his crib for a nap in an upstairs room. She went to check on the boy a couple of minutes later, and he wasn't there. The couple began looking for Dakota because "she has a habit of taking cups or stuffed animals. She takes them to several different places" in thick woods that cover most of a 2-acre fenced back yard, Michael Smith said.

"We began a pretty frantic search for the dog and A.J.," he said. Initially, "we weren't able to find either one of them."

Michael Smith called 911 and then found Dakota with the baby outside. "She was carrying A.J. like she would carry a stuffed animal, very gentle, kind of like a loaf of bread."

The dog was carrying the baby by the chest. "His head was out. You could see some blood on his head," Smith said.

He chased the dog but couldn't get her to release the baby. Later, the dog dropped the baby, and after further searching, Smith found the infant on a patch of grass. A.J.'s eyes were open and his mouth was bleeding.

"He looked a whole lot better than what I thought he was going to look," Smith said.

As of Tuesday, the baby's vital signs were stable, Smith said.

"There doesn't appear to be any organ damage," he said. "He does have a cracked skull in two places."

A.J., who weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces at birth, also has a cut on his cheek and had a couple of wounds on the back of his head.

The Smiths have two Native American Indian dogs and a black Labrador named Maggie.

Michael Smith said they chose to get Native American Indian dogs in part because "my wife had done extensive research on them, and they're great family pets. She had talked to the breeder and had talked to other owners" of these types of dogs.

They got Dakota and Nikita from a Michigan breeder. He described the dogs' grandparents "as 90 percent wolf."

"They are the most mild-mannered dogs you could have," Smith said. "We've had them for four years, since they were pups."

Dakota remains at the Jessamine County SAVE Center, an animal shelter for dogs and cats in Nicholasville.

No decision has been made on whether to euthanize Dakota. Chief Deputy Peel said if Smith chooses to have the dog euthanized, "that's his right."

Smith said it would be his hope that Dakota could be adopted by another owner.

"Obviously," he said, "Dakota is not coming back into my house."

Greg Kocher covers Jessamine County for the Herald-Leader. Reach him in the Nicholasville bureau at (859) 885-5775.

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