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Special Event

Fatal Dog Attack: Dog Owner Speaks Out

Aired February 2, 2001 - 11:03 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We need to go now to California. This is an unusual story we've been following for a couple of days.

The man you see now is Robert Noel, an attorney who is speaking outside the corrections facility in Pelican Bay, California. He is the owner of that pair of dogs we've been hearing about, who attacked Mr. Noel's neighbor in a San Francisco apartment building and killed her during that attack.

Let's listen now to Mr. Noel's comments.

ROBERT NOEL, DOG'S OWNER: Jim O'Brien (ph) from the Burlingame Police Department, who runs an animal transport service, Lieutenant O'Brien (ph) had for 20 years been the K-9 trainer for the Burlingame P.D..

And we took him along, because quite frankly we didn't -- we didn't know what to find with these dogs. They were large dogs.

And when we got there, Ms. Combs (ph) told everyone what an absolutely gentle lovable dog Bane was, and how it was going to be a terrible loss to her and her daughter to lose Bane. She stood there in tears. She stood there crying. Her daughter was crying.

And the pickup with Mr. O'Brien (ph) came the day after Marjorie and my initial contact with Ms. Combs (ph) when we delivered the kennels for the shipment. She introduced us to Bane, she introduced us to Hera. She showed us the female, Isis (ph), and her pups.

And told us the same thing she did the following day. As a matter of fact, when we -- when we met with her that day, she had -- she had called for a deputy sheriff to be there to supervise the operation.

Things went so extremely well that the deputy sheriff was even helping us assemble the kennels, and was walking around examining the dogs. And the dogs were fine with him. Bane was just a wonderful mutt and lived up to everything. And Ms. Combs (ph) was saying about him.

QUESTION: He's not a vicious dog, in your estimation?

NOEL: No, he wasn't a vicious dog. He had some issues with other male dogs, as other male dogs had issues with him. And when I say "issues," it's, like, two teenage boys meeting on the street. They start posturing with one another. They growl, they bark at one another. They might lunch for one another. But no, Bane had never shown any signs of people aggression.

QUESTION: He never bit the postman, like the SFPD is saying?

NOEL: No.

QUESTION: He never assaulted other dogs in the neighbor, or Ms. Whipple? He never bit Ms. Whipple before?

NOEL: No. The initial report that I -- when I came out, the initial report that I heard was that he had bitten Ms. Whipple about two weeks before the incident of the 26th. He had encountered Ms. Whipple only three time. Each time with me, each time in connection with one or the other of us getting on or off the elevator.

QUESTION: And what were they, the encounters, like?

NOEL: A typical encounter would be -- on two occasions, Bane and I were getting off the elevator, once at the -- once at the sixth floor, once in the lobby. Ms. Whipple was outside. Bane would be on the lead, very shortly in the elevator because the elevators are very small. A small place. And when you open the door, you are not always certain what you're -- what you're going to find outside.

The door opened on those two occasions -- on each occasion, I asked Ms. Whipple to please stand back so that we could get through it. It is a small hallway.

QUESTION: Why would you do that if the dogs didn't have any problem before? If they were calm? Why would you ask her to stand back?

NOEL: Well, Bane was -- Bane was big. And I'm kind of large as well. And the space was about two-feet wide to get through when the door's open.

QUESTION: Are two dogs that size appropriate for one-bedroom San Francisco apartments?

NOEL: It would depend on the circumstances. And if the dogs were left alone for eight to 10 or 12 hours a day while we were off working someplace, I would say, yes, it would be inappropriate.

However, we spent -- we spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with those dogs because we worked largely out of the house. When we traveled, for instance, when we come up here on business, the dogs would go with us. We would find facilities in the local area to basically put them in doggie day care for the day while we were...

QUESTION: Speaking here, why are we in Pelican Bay? Why are you having us here and not San Francisco? NOEL: Well, we are here because we scheduled visiting with Mr. Schneider today. And I believe one of your colleagues from the "Chronicle" wanted to know if we would be willing to have Mr. Schneider make a statement on camera. We told your colleagues certainly if, since we were visiting, we would ask Mr. Schneider if that was a possibility. And if the prison were to approve it, that was -- that was something that would be perfectly acceptable to us, as long as Mr. Schneider agreed. And it's just sort of grew from there.

QUESTION: Is it -- is it -- was the perfume and the steroids -- was that the catalyst, do you think, sir, in this attack?

NOEL: I know Terry Hallinan had a saying we are blaming the victim. I was contacted by an investigator who works dog cases. And I was also contacted by a professional animal trainer who made the suggestion that those two things should be looked at from a forensic standpoint to see if that was a possibility.

My suggestion to Mr. Hallinan that better a check be made for that, that was simply to make sure that base was covered. It was not to suggest in any way that Ms. Whipple was improperly using steroids or had, in fact, used any such perfume. But it was just to cover that base. It's to make sure, from an investigative standpoint, that was done.

QUESTION: Then what was the catalyst, do you think, sir?

QUESTION: So you didn't say in your letter...

QUESTION: What do you -- is -- was there a catalyst in this, do you think? And if so, what was it?

NOEL: The -- I really don't know.

QUESTION: Why do you think she called after Mrs. Noel and the dog, as you said in your letter?

NOEL: I haven't a clue, except that if you had examined the photographs of the scene, or had been at the scene, you would have -- you'd have found that the -- that Ms. Whipple was down the hall by the elevator following at the conclusion of the incident.

There was -- and she had -- she had managed to get that far down the hall after having been in her apartment. Her apartment door was open when the officers arrived.

QUESTION: Do you think she was calling for help, or do you think she was calling in retaliation?

NOEL: I don't -- I don't -- I really don't want to speculate at this point.

QUESTION: Where did...

QUESTION: You said she was bitten as well. What part of her body was bitten? NOEL: She was bitten on her arms, her breasts, her back. Her clothing was ripped and torn. If Mr. -- when Mr. Hallinan says he doesn't -- doesn't buy her story, all he has to do is look at the forensic evidence. And you people should ask him, at the earliest possible time, if he had in fact before he started running his mouth, looked at Ms. Knoller's bloody, torn clothing. Ask if he had checked the photographs that had been taken of her that evening and the very injuries.

QUESTION: Mr. Noel, Janet Combs (ph) said that she made you fully aware that these dogs had eaten her livestock. And since they were considered part of a dog breeding or fighting ring that Schneider and Ratchers (ph) were accused of, and at the very least, you said were abused by her, don't you think that that calls into question of the dog's behavior and how -- is there history that you knew of that history?

NOEL: Ms. Combs (ph) had identified one dog, Furry (ph), as a dog that had molested her chickens, supposedly done something to her sheep. And that was the only dog. Furry (ph) was a dog that she kept separate from the -- from the other -- the other dogs on a very short chain.

When we showed up initially to check out the scene, Furry (ph) was barking and growling and lunging. Bane and Hera, who were on the other side of the driveway, chained to another tree during the entire time, just sat and observed the scene. They didn't bark, they didn't lunge, they didn't jump around.

When we discussed with Lieutenant O'Brien (ph) Furry's (ph) behavior, he indicated that, in his years of experience, that was probably completely attributable to the fact the dog was on a chain. And indicated that as soon as the dog was taken off the chain, that behavior would stop.

And the next difficult when Furry (ph) was taken off the chain, that behavior ceased instantly. And Furry (ph) became an absolutely tranquil dog.

If Furry (ph), in fact, was doing anything like that, it was probably because she was about half the weight she should have been. She was being starved by Ms. Combs (ph).

QUESTION: She said that Bane and Hera attacked her livestock.

QUESTION: At some point, did Ms. Whipple strike Mrs. Knoller?

NOEL: Yes.

QUESTION: How? Tell me about that.

NOEL: The -- as Mrs. Knoller had gotten on top of Ms. Whipple for about the third time to protect her from Bane, Ms. Whipple pushed Ms. Knoller off again. And this time, swung her hand -- swung her hand with her fist backward and punched Mrs. Knoller in the eye.

QUESTION: Purposely?

NOEL: I don't...

QUESTION: She was fighting for her life, wasn't she?

NOEL: At that point, Bane had not -- Bane had not really done anything. She -- and this is after Ms. Whipple had just come out of the apartment down the hall and Ms. Knoller's repeatedly telling her, Stay down, getting on top of her to protect her.

When Ms...

(CROSSTALK)

NOEL: I'm sorry?

When Ms. Whipple struck Ms. Knoller in the eye, that was when Bane...

QUESTION: Sir, you think that was the catalyst in this attack? That hit? Ms. Whipple's hit to Ms. Knoller? You think that's what led to this?

NOEL: The catalyst, I think, was Ms. Whipple's leaving the position of safety that Ms. Knoller had put her in and had gotten Bane away from her in.

QUESTION: Why didn't Ms. Knoller feel the need to protect Mrs. Whipple if Bane hadn't made any overtures at that point?

NOEL: Bane had gone down the hall. It took approximately a minute for Bane to overcome Ms. Knoller's efforts to control him with Ms. Whipple watching the whole time from a distance of 50 feet.

Over the next 15, 20 seconds, while Bane was dragging Ms. Knoller down the hall toward Ms. Whipple, Ms. Whipple stood, just watching the scene develop.

Bane went up on the wall, put a paw on either side of her, did not -- did not touch her, went down to the floor. And Ms. Whipple then said, He jumped me. Ms. Knoller at that point pushed Ms. Whipple out of the way, away from Bane. They both went down on the floor. Ms. Knoller was actually on the floor at that time, and reached up and pushed Ms. Whipple.

QUESTION: So Ms. Knoller didn't have any control over the dog at that point, if she's getting bit herself?

NOEL: Well, no. You're -- I didn't say that. And you need -- you need to look at the -- you are making assumptions that aren't true. If you look at the chronology that's outlined in the letter of the 31st and follow it, you will see that -- you'll see where your mistake is.

QUESTION: Look, Bob (ph), there are a 19-page letter...

FRAZIER: All right, let's add some perspective to all of what we're seeing here.

This is Robert Noel speaking, an attorney from San Francisco, the owner of two dogs involved in a horrific attack last Friday, which left one woman dead.

Some of the names that he was using in that require a little explanation. He spoke of Bane and Hera. Those are the names of the two dogs involved in the attack. Marjorie Knoller, Ms. Knoller as he referred to, is his own wife. And Ms. Whipple is Diane Whipple, a 33- year-old lacross instructor from a nearby college, who was the victim of the attack and who was killed by those dogs, one of which has been destroyed and one of which is awaiting review for perhaps the same end.

For further details on what happened on Friday, let's turn now to Lindy Yee, from our affiliate KRON TV in San Francisco, for her report on the episode and the controversy that it has caused since.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LINDA YEE, KRON TV REPORTER (voice-over): It's an 18-page statement by the dog owners. And it shifts the blame squarely on the victim, Diane Whipple. Robert Noel writes that his wife, Marjorie Knoller, repeatedly threw herself between the dogs and Whipple, at one point shoving Whipple inside her apartment once the dog jumped her.

But Noel writes: "Ms. Whipple, rather than stay still or move back to her apartment, continued to crawl toward Marjorie and Bane," the male Mastiff that eventually killed Whipple.

The story changes dramatically from the police report, when Noel herself told officers each time the victim tried to move toward her apartment, the dog renewed its attack. And that Whipple was trying desperately to enter her apartment to get away from the dog but could not.

Other residents of the apartment building were outraged. Their neighbors are shifting the blame.

LARRY LERER, NEIGHBOR: I think the letter is a lawyer's letter in some attempt to dilute what is clearly a serious situation.

YEE: The couple also state that: "Ms. Whipple may have been wearing a phermone-based cosmetic or scent, or that as a serious athlete, she may have been a user of steroids which could have triggered the initial interest of Bane and would have had an effect on Hera," the female dog.

ELISE NAVIN, NEIGHBOR: But to say that she had some steroid or some, you know -- something she was wearing that caused the attack, that's -- you know, that's hogwash. You know, she was an innocent bystander.

YEE: Police investigators were building the case against the couple for violating the city's Fighting Dog Statute, said the statements are ridiculous. LT. HENRY HUNTER, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE DEPT.: If I wear aftershave lotion, I'm sure most women wear perfume. Does it -- you know, just because we wear aftershave lotion or perfume, does that mean we should be eaten by a dog?

TERRENCE HALLINAN, SAN FRANCISCO DISTRICT ATTY.: It's grabbing at straws. I mean, it's possible the cow jumped over the moon. But I don't think -- I mean, we have evidence that these were aggressive, dangerous dogs from the get-go.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRAZIER: Linda Yee reporting there from San Francisco on the attack and the controversy that has followed, which are roiling San Francisco.

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