The pit bull dogs who mauled their Virginia owner to death went through “drastic lifestyle” changes that could have caused the indoor canines to turn on the 22-year-old woman who cared for them, a certified dog trainer told a Virginia television station.
Bethany Stephens, 22, whose body was found in the woods in Goochland, was mauled to death last week by her dogs, named Tonka and Pac-Man, during a walk, police said. Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew said at a news conference on Monday deputies witnessed the dogs “eating [her] rib cage” last week and found Stephens’ body completely naked except for one boot . The dogs were later euthanized.
Authorities still are conducting an investigation, but Valerie Paul, a certified master dog trainer who is deemed an expert after testifying in multiple court cases involving animals, told WTVR that she believes there was an “outside influence.”
“Most dogs aren’t going to just turn on an owner,” Paul said. “As more and more details come out, I think there probably was some sort of outside influence, but not necessarily another animal or anything like that – just something that could have enticed the dogs to get overexcited and react the way dogs will.”
DEPUTIES WATCHED DOGS 'EATING RIB CAGE' OF VIRGINIA WOMAN, 22, DURING MAULING, SHERIFF SAYS
Stephens would treat the dogs like her own children and brought them to work, WTVR reported. Friends told the news station that Stephens got Tonka when he was 8 weeks old and rescued Pac-Man from an abusive home. The dogs were indoor animals and socialized, but they were a “little bit neglected” during the time leading up to last week’s deadly mauling, Sgt. Mike Blackwood said at a Monday news conference.
The 22-year-old left her pets with her dad because she was going through personal events, friends said. Blackwood said the dogs began living outside in a kennel and Stephens’ father “wasn’t taking care of them — it wasn’t his responsibility.” Eventually, the Tonka and Pac-Man were living out “in the cold.”
VIRGINIA WOMAN KILLED IN 'GRISLY MAULING' BY HER DOGS, COPS SAY
Paul said the “huge” lifestyle change could have caused them to maul their owner.
"This was such a huge lifestyle change,” Paul told WTVR. “There are so many factors within that lifestyle change that we may see as small things that the dogs may see as larger.”
"Most dogs aren’t going to just turn on an owner."- Certified Valerie Paul, certified master dog trainer
The dogs weren’t fed daily and saw Stephens roughly five times a week. The canines became more isolated.
Paul said, “The breed in and of itself is a high energy breed, they like to have a lot of structure and a lot of exercise, so by keeping them in a pin, alone, under socialized, away from people, that energy is just building up and building up and building up and that’s when you start to see dogs fighting more regularly, that’s when you start to see more negative scenarios.”
She added that she believes there was “a good chance” the mauling “was energy gone wrong.”
"There is a lot of speculation…but you can’t blame the breed,” Paul said.
Katherine Lam is a breaking and trending news digital producer for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @bykatherinelam
Bethany Stephens was mauled by her two dogs while taking them for a walk near her home. (Facebook)
The female keeper killed by a tiger at Hamerton Zoo Park yesterday was likely mauled to death in a matter of seconds, an animal expert claims.
Rosa King, 34, tragically died at the scene after being attacked in front of her distraught colleagues at the zoo near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.
The "freak accident" would have unfolded in less than half a minute - and may have come to an end in just 10 or 20 seconds, says Pete Wedderburn.
It was likely "over" by the time staff understood what was happening, but even the use of a tranquiliser gun wouldn't have saved Rosa's life, he claims.
Speaking to Mirror Online, Pete, a vet with more than 25 years of experience who once came face-to-face with a tiger, said: "The issue is timing.
"The thing people need to understand about tranquilisers is that they don't have an absolute immediate knock-down effect."
He said tranquilisers can take several minutes to work, meaning they can be appropriate in "longer-term scenarios", such as when zoo animals go on the loose.
However, he said in a case like yesterday's attack, there would have been "no time for a tranquiliser to have any effect whatsoever".
The animal welfare expert, from Ireland, claimed: "The whole sequence of events would be less than half a minute."
He added: "By the time they [staff] realised a crisis was happening it would have all been over... it's very, very sad."
When asked about the use of a high-velocity rifle in such situations, Pete said marksmen could "arguably fire a single shot and kill" a tiger.
But he noted: "You can't have keepers doing work in a zoo with high-powered rifles on every corner."
He added that the weapons are very dangerous and that marksmen would need to have a clear shot of the attacking animal.
Recalling his own experience with a tiger, he said he was in a zoo with vets when the creature suddenly lunged at them from behind thick bars and roared loudly.
"Tigers are immensely powerful and threateningly quick," he said, explaining how a single blow from one of the mammals could kill a person.
Pete's comments come as loved ones have paid tribute to Rosa, who adored her job as a carnivore keeper and was the "shining light" of the zoo.
It is believed the victim may have run into the tigers' enclosure in a desperate bid to help a colleague when she was attacked by the tiger.
Bank Holiday visitors described hearing a "blood-curdling scream" before seeing distraught employees holding their heads in their hands.
Emergency services were called to the park at around 11.15am yesterday following reports of a "serious incident".
A Magpas air ambulance was on the scene 20 minutes later and visitors were evacuated from the attraction just before midday.
An East of England Ambulance Service paramedic crew and two rapid response vehicles also attended the site of the horrifying attack.
More than 24 hours on from the tragedy, a number of questions remain unanswered, including exactly how the incident unfolded.
Today, Rosa's grief-stricken mum, Andrea King, described how her daughter had been working in her dream job, saying she "wouldn't have done anything else."
"It's what she has always done, it's what she has always loved," she added.
Andrea told the Press Association Rosa had worked at the zoo for about 14 years.
Meanwhile, wildlife photographer Garry Chisholm said the keeper was a "lovely lady" who was "absolutely passionate" about the captive animals in her care.
Garry, 59, who knew Rosa through visiting the zoo, said: "Rosa wasn't just a keeper at Hamerton Zoo - she was Hamerton Zoo.
"She was the absolute central point of it, the focal point of it.
"She was the shining light of it. It revolved around her."
He added: "Her passion for the animals in her care was exceptional though her favourites were undoubtedly the cheetahs which she would refer to as her pride and joy. I feel privileged to have known Rosa and been able to call her a friend.
"She will be greatly missed, not just by me, but by everyone who came to know her. The only consolation I can take from the tragic events is that Rosa is now reunited with her beloved Ares the cheetah, and Blizzard and Ladybelle, her beloved tigers."
The zoo said in a statement: "At no point during the incident did any animals escape their enclosures and at no point was public safety affected in any way. All our thoughts and sympathies are with our colleagues, friends and families at this dreadful time."
Hamerton Zoo incident
A Cambridgeshire Police spokesperson said "A tiger had entered an enclosure with a keeper. Sadly the female keeper died at the scene.
"At no time did the animal escape from the enclosure.
"The incident is not believed to be suspicious."
The force also said the tiger had not been killed and was unharmed after the attack.
Hamerton Zoo Park opened in June 1990 and covers 25 acres.
It includes enclosures for Malaysian tigers, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, wolves, corsac foxes, kangaroos, as well as a variety of birds, reptiles and domestic animals.
In October 2008, a cheetah which escaped from the park was found by a nine-year-old boy in the back garden of his family home.
The zoo remains closed and a full investigation is under way.
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