An 18-month-old Hernando County toddler was mauled to death Monday in front of his grandfather by a pair of family dogs, sheriff's deputies said.
Officials arrived at the mobile home late Monday morning after receiving a call about the boy being bitten by dogs. They found Declan Moss dead from the attack.
The toddler had been playing on the porch of the home, in the rural northeastern corner of Hernando County, when two dogs attacked him for reasons still unknown. His grandfather, Gregory Moss, tried to pull the dogs off, but Declan died of his injuries.
"The bottom line here is that you can never, ever be totally trusting of a dog that's of medium or large size," Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis told reporters at the scene. "You've always got to watch your children just like you would if it was a swimming pool. Don't let the dog get close to the child, even if it's a dog you trust, because unfortunately the risk is just too high."
Sheriff's deputies and Hernando County Fire Rescue workers responded to the scene in Istachatta, north of Brooksville, just before 11 a.m.
Moss, 51, had been home alone with the boy when the two mixed-breed dogs, Thumper and Max, attacked. Afterward, the grandfather was "pretty shaken up" in interviews with the Sheriff's Office, agency spokesman Michael Terry said.
"Ultimately they had to take him to the Sheriff's Office for additional questioning," Terry said. "It's very emotional, obviously, and we want to get the exact story. We still don't understand entirely what occurred."
Terry said family members have expressed shock at the dogs' aggression and that the Sheriff's Office has no issues or complaints about the dogs on file. The dogs were being evaluated Monday at Hernando County Animal Services in Brooksville.
Thumper is about 6 years old, and Max is about 18 months old, born at about the same time as the toddler.
About 10 family members flocked to the home to grieve the young boy, including his mother, Sheila Moss, Terry said.
"It's sad. It's definitely something you don't want to deal with, especially with a young child like that, just 18 months," he said. "They never thought the dogs, from their comments, would act this way and do something to this infant."
Attempts to reach the Moss family were unsuccessful.
Deputies were continuing to investigate at the home at 16251 Cherokee Road late Monday afternoon. Terry said he expects more details, such as the dogs' breeds, to emerge today.
Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected]