At least there was actually a dog involved. So media reports were not entirely in error. And that dog was a Rottweiler mix, at least in someone’s estimation, so it’s easy to understand how reporters became so confused. I mean, a dying woman discovered anywhere near a canine of such formidable and dangerous lineage just plain screams fatal attack, does it not?

According to a report recently released by the National Canine Research Council, the circumstances were as follows:

Carolyn Baker, who had previously suffered both a stroke and a heart attack, put on a pair of boots and walked out to her family’s detached garage late at night to let the dog, Zeus, into the house for the night. Usually, another family member brought the dog in. However, no one had done so on this particular night.

Ms. Baker, who was wearing only a thin polyester nightgown in the 20-degree cold, could only move with difficulty, given the state of her health. She usually did not navigate the icy stairs down to the driveway and the 50-foot walk to the garage.

About 3 a.m. that Sunday morning, a next-door neighbor called the family to tell them Zeus was in the Baker’s front yard barking. Carolyn’s husband, Ricardo Baker, let Zeus in the front door. He noticed that Carolyn was not in the house, and that the back door was open. He found her at the bottom of the back steps, motionless and bleeding. He called for help, and she was taken to a local hospital, where she died approximately 2 hours later.

Never mind there were no actual bite wounds, or that the victim had a history of stroke and heart attack, or that it was her own dog. There was blood. There was a dog. Voila! Fatal Dog Attack!

According to the NCRC Investigative Report, early reports pointed to Zeus, referred to non-existant bite marks, and both ignored more likely factors in Ms. Baker’s death as well as her family’s assertions that injuries caused by Zeus were sustained in the course of his trying to rouse her following her trauma.

  • On its Sunday news broadcast, WKYC TV News quoted Cleveland Heights police as saying “Baker had severe arm and shoulder injuries and bite marks.”
  • On Monday morning, the Sun News reported, “A woman died after being attacked by the family Rottweiler-mix dog yesterday morning on Woodridge Road. According to police, Carolyn Baker, 63, died after being attacked by the dog.”
  • The Columbus Dispatch joined in with its headline, “Cleveland Heights Woman Killed by Own Dog.”

According to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, Ms. Baker’s death was due to cardiovascular disease, not to trauma caused by dog bites. Contributory factors were hypothermia, subcutaneous soft tissue injury (claw marks), and blunt force impact to the head and extremities. There were no bite marks on Ms. Baker.

Although the Coroner’s Office completed its report in March, no one except the NCRC had inquired about the report or requested a copy as of May 13 according to the NCRC report.

In the meantime, Zeus has been euthanized. His death did not make the news.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.