New life awaited boy killed by dog
DCFS knew foster child lived with Rottweilers
By Robert Mitchum and Ofelia Casillas
January 13, 2009
The fearless 4-year-old boy with reddish hair, brown eyes and fair skin moved through four foster homes during his short lifetime. He had recently begun to visit with foster parents who might eventually adopt him, finally his chance at a new life.
But at least one Rottweiler mauled Alex Angulo to death Sunday while he may have been unattended in the backyard of his foster family’s home on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
The death raises questions about whether child-welfare officials had taken enough precautions with a small child living so close to two aggressive dogs.
A caregiver for Alex had been using a snowblower in a back alley before he discovered the injured boy, Chicago police said.
Child-welfare officials said Alex’s caseworker knew about the family’s dogs—two Rottweilers and a poodle.
“There was an understanding that the dogs lived outside, and the child would not have unsupervised contact with the dogs,” said Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
But Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said those precautions were not enough.
“Don’t place a 4-year-old in a home with two big wild dogs,” Harris said. “You don’t just say, ‘OK, the kid won’t go out into the yard.’ I don’t know if you can always promise that with a 4-year-old.”
Chicago police said Monday that they were investigating what the boy’s foster family was doing at the time of the attack.
Mark Rosenthal, operations manager at the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control, said it’s still unclear if more than one dog attacked the boy. All three dogs were euthanized, he said. The commission had not been called to the home before.
Ambulances responded to the midafternoon attack Sunday in the backyard in the 3800 block of West 61st Street, a Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman said. Alex was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 4:15 p.m.
State records reviewed by the Tribune show that Alex’s birth family first came to the attention of the child-welfare system in 2001—three years before his birth—when it was alleged that the father was physically abusing one of his sons. DCFS took custody of two sons in 2002.
Within days of his birth in 2004, Alex became a foster child because DCFS officials found that he was at risk of physical injury.
Alex was placed in a foster home in Humboldt Park until 2006, when a relative in Florida stepped forward to take him and his brothers. But a little more than a year later, those foster parents said they “were done with these kids” and gave them back, the records said.
Alex returned to his previous foster home but was moved to a shelter in November 2007.
He was then placed in the home of a 77-year-old woman on the Southwest Side who had just renewed a foster-care license that was originally granted in 2000, according to DCFS officials.
Records show that Alex had behavior problems—he hit other children and had a short attention span. But he also showed a positive attitude in school.
The foster home seemed to be working, according to state records.
“All of his needs have been appropriately addressed,” wrote one state worker. In November, workers found that Alex’s foster mother was “maintaining a safe and appropriate environment” for the boy.
His foster mother loved the boy like her own son, records noted.
Alex was primarily cared for by his foster mother’s adult son, who is in his 30s, according to child-welfare records. Alex called the caregiver “uncle,” records show.
“Everyone in the house likes Alex very much, saying he is cute and they love to play with him,” one record noted.
Still, in December, a Juvenile Court judge determined that Alex’s foster home was not a good fit in the long run because of his foster mother’s advanced age.
The goal was to move him to a home in which the parents could eventually adopt him.
On Monday, the yard where Alex was mauled was eerily quiet without the large dogs barking at passersby on the front sidewalk or the alley, neighbors said.
Neighbors said the family had kept Rottweilers since it moved into the house about five years ago, once offering a litter of puppies for sale. The dogs were mostly kept in a cage but were sometimes allowed to roam the yard freely, they said.
One neighbor who asked not to be identified said he tried feeding the dogs occasionally so they wouldn’t bark as he passed by the fence.
The dogs were aggressive, he said.
Alex’s foster family declined to answer questions Monday at the house. “We’re very hurt,” said a woman who answered the door.
In a similar attack last week, two sisters, ages 5 and 10, were mauled by a Rottweiler at their mother’s Joliet home but survived.
According to statistics collected from media reports by Animal People, a Washington-based animal protection newspaper, Rottweiler attacks caused 63 deaths from 1982 to 2007, the second most after pit bulls.
Tribune reporter Angela Rozas contributed to this report.