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People tell of run-ins with attack dogs

The Associated Press
Wednesday February 14, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — An attorney testified at City Hall that his mastiff-Canary Island dog was not involved in the fatal mauling of a woman last month, despite frightening accounts from the public about run-ins with the animal. 

Robert Noel, and his wife Marjorie Knoller, testified at a public hearing that their dog Hera played no role in the death of St. Mary’s lacrosse coach Dianne Whipple, who died at her doorstep after a bloody attack Jan. 26. 

Bane, the dog said to have inflicted the fatal wounds, was put down that night. 

But the couple has refused to surrender custody of their other dog, Hera, who remains at a city animal welfare facility. 

The police sergeant who heard the testimony will make the final decision on Hera’s fate within two weeks. 

The couple said neither dog had a history of aggression since arriving in San Francisco from rural Hayfork, where the animals were raised. 

“Hera and Bane were not the least bit aggressive,” Noel said at a “vicious dog” hearing Tuesday. 

He disputed the claims of people who came forward to relate harrowing experiences with his dogs, but offered no explanation for the fatal attack. 

“The behavior was totally out of character for either one of them,” Noel told Sgt. William Herndon. 

One man testified that Hera bit him on the rear when he exited an elevator in their apartment building. 

David Moser said the couple seemed dismissive of the incident at the time. 

“I recall being kind of shocked at their reaction,” Moser said. “They didn’t seem to discipline the dog.” 

Noel rebutted Moser’s testimony, saying the man bumped into his wife and “assaulted” her without apologizing.  

Noel said the man bumped his leg on the elevator door, causing a mark. 

Noel also attacked the testimony of a letter carrier who said he had use his mail cart to fend off the dogs in front of the couple’s apartment. 

“Hera started running for the mail cart. Her eyesight is not the best,” Noel said in explaining the incident. 

Police officers and animal control workers called to the scene the night of Whipple’s mauling recalled finding her lying on the floor, covered in blood with her clothes shredded around her. 

Animal control officer Andrea Runge said she was not prepared for what she saw. 

“It was shredded bits of cloth, clumps of hair and blood,” Runge testified. 

She and the other animal control officers said Hera growled and banged against a closed glass door until they subdued her. Runge described Hera’s behavior as “crazed.” 

Knoller started to cry as she recounted the fatal mauling, saying she was tried to restrain Bane and protect Whipple by covering her with her own body. 

Bane, she said, inflicted all of Whipple’s wounds while Hera merely tugged at her pant leg. Knoller pleaded for Hera’s return. 

Herndon asked Knoller if she felt it would be safe for the public if the dog was returned to a domestic environment. 

“She’s a wonderful pet and I do believe she would be just fine,” Knoller said. 

As Knoller returned to her seat, players from the lacrosse team Whipple coached hissed and said loud enough to be heard “psycho, psycho.” 

Other St. Mary’s students held back tears as they discussed the dogs’ owners. 

“It’s clearly obvious that these people have a sick and twisted view of what a gentle, loving dog is,” said Melissa Boyle, a St. Mary’s lacrosse team member. 

Sheriff’s deputies escorted Noel and Knoller from the hearing before it ended. 

Meanwhile, city prosecutors are trying to determine if Noel and Knoller knew the dogs were vicious — a prerequisite to deciding if charges should be filed against the couple.