BROOKSVILLE — Declan Moss could say more than 15 words at an age when most toddlers only know six, his proud mother said. He liked strumming his toy guitar and playing in his toy kitchen set. He liked to be near water and going to the beach.
"A complete and total beach baby," Sheila Moss called her only son Tuesday, a day after the 18-month-old was mauled to death by two dogs at his grandparents' home.
The animals remained in the custody of the Hernando County Animal Services at the Brooksville animal shelter. Their fate was uncertain.
Meanwhile, Hernando sheriff's investigators continued Tuesday to probe what happened Monday morning as Declan played on the porch of the mobile home he and his mother shared with her parents at 16251 Cherokee Road.
The dogs, a pair of mixed breeds named Thumper and Max, had been with the family since they were puppies, said Moss, 26. Thumper was 6 years old. Max was 18 months, the same as Declan.
Neither had ever caused a problem for the family or shown any sign of aggression, Moss said. Her son loved the dogs, she said, as well as the horses and cattle he encountered in their rural northeast Hernando County community.
Declan's grandfather, Gregory Moss, 51, was supervising the boy when the dogs attacked, authorities said. He tried to pull them off. By the time rescue personnel arrived, Declan was dead.
"My son was my everything," Sheila Moss said. "Everyone here is devastated."
She got the call Monday afternoon while at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, where she helps plan funerals for former servicemen and women. An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, she spoke of her son's life as a miracle.
Doctors had told her she would be unable to bear children. The prospects seemed even more bleak as she battled post traumatic stress disorder and thyroid cancer that forced her to end her military service.
But despite her health struggles, Declan Dean Moss still came. His middle name was in honor of Jeffrey Dean Coleman, an Army specialist from Hernando County, one of his mother's fallen brothers in arms.
"My little boy had an amazingly short life," Moss said. "But he was well loved and well cared for. . . . He was an amazing kid."