Features

SF dog owners applaud mauling verdict, fear backlash

By Kim Curtis, The Associated Press
Saturday March 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area dog owners applaud the guilty verdicts in the high-profile mauling trial of two San Francisco attorneys, but fear a backlash against responsible dog owners. 

Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were convicted by a Los Angeles jury Thursday. Their dogs fatally mauled 33-year-old Diane Whipple in her apartment building nearly 14 months ago. 

Knoller and Noel, who kept the dogs for two California prison inmates, claimed they had no idea the dogs would turn into killers. 

Allyson Kulavis and Jeff Johnson were out for a walk at Crissy Field with their dog, Jake, a 65-pound pitbull-Labrador mix they got from the pound, on Friday. Crissy Field is a popular spot for dog owners who let their dogs run without leashes. 

Kulavis said she thinks Knoller and Noel acted negligently and that they should be held accountable, but the verdict “shouldn’t be an excuse to persecute every dog or dog owner.” 

“There are so many dogs in this city and the vast majority live with humans just fine,” she said. 

Ed Sayres, president of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, commended the verdict and reminded people that fatal dog attacks are rare. 

“We need to prosecute and punish people who have vicious and dangerous dogs,” Sayres said, adding that dog owners ultimately determine “whether a dog turns out to be safe or dangerous.” 

In a city with about 100,000 dogs, pressure to keep them on leashes has increased significantly since the fatal attack in January 2001. City officials last year considered pushing police to enforce a long-ignored policy requiring dogs to be on leashes except in designated areas. Fines for violating the policy run around $27. 

San Francisco currently has about 17 such areas, but the Parks and Recreation Department wants to create more, according to department spokeswoman Becky Ballinger. 

The policy “caused an outcry from people who don’t want to put their dogs on leashes at all,” she said. After a round of public comment, the policy proposal was amended and is waiting to be reviewed by a commission. 

Many dog owners still complain that they are unfairly being punished for the acts of two irresponsible dog owners. 

Most of the handful of people who visited Crissy Field on Friday — many stayed away because of the rainy weather — had their dogs off leashes. But some dog owners admit their attitudes have changed since the attack. 

“I think people are hypersensitive about dogs off leashes and big dogs in general,” said Carolyn Geubelle, who was walking her dog, Calvin, a 105-pound Chesapeake Bay retriever. 

Geubelle said she has noticed that people act differently around her dog since the mauling trial began. 

“I definitely keep my dog on the leash more,” Geubelle said. “Dogs will still be dogs. They are still wild animals.” 

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On the Net: 

http://www.parks.sfgov.org