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Fatal Dog Attack in San Francisco Stirs up Fears of Man's Best Friend

Aired February 9, 2001 - 4:27 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: In San Francisco, the city's Commission of Animal Control and Welfare has rejected a proposal to muzzle aggressive dog breeds in public. The proposed legislation was brought up after a local woman was attacked and killed last month by two large dogs, which belonged to her neighbor.

As CNN's Rusty Dornin reports, that's made many San Franciscans question their approach to man's best friend.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Patches, God bless you.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the city named for the patron saint of animals. In San Francisco, dogs get special treatment: luxurious accommodations in the animal shelter, massive protests against increasing attempts to leash them.

PROTESTERS: No leashes! No leashes!

DORNIN: And if they're homeless, a city proclamation prevents them from being euthanized.

ED SAYRES, SF SPCA: That's the only city in the world that makes that guarantee, and so we're often referred to as the no-kill city.

DORNIN: But that was before two dogs killed a person. Diane Whipple was fatally attacked in her apartment hallway last month. The mood has changed.

SGT. BILL HERNDON, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE: People are afraid, and when people see a large dog running toward them, or any dog now, they want something done about it.

DORNIN: Dog lovers like John Kaye and his dog Corky see and hear the backlash.

JOHN KAYE, DOG OWNER: All of the sudden, people are coming up to me saying, "Put a muzzle on that dog, I'm afraid of your dog, get that dog away." And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) "He's so friendly, he's done nothing." They say, "I know he hasn't, but look what happened." DORNIN: This week, a city animal commissioner tried to enact a law to muzzle large dogs deemed to be vicious.

FREDERICK HOBSON, SAN FRANCISCO ANIMAL COMMITTEE: Yes, yes, I am doing that right now, because I know that now we've got people listening to us. Would they have listened to us before? No. God rest Ms. Whipple's soul, at least maybe out of that death some good will come.

DORNIN: To the muzzle meeting came many dog owners appalled at the thought.

CINDY MARABITO, DOG OWNER: If I see this on a dog, I'm going to run across the street. I think of Hannibal Lecter.

DORNIN: In the end, commissioners voted down the muzzle measure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Proposal does not carry.

DORNIN: Meantime, tolerance for unleashed dogs is at an all-time low.

HERNDON: Sometimes when do you have serious incidents happen, we have to step up our enforcement. We have to -- the owners have to be more vigilant. They can't let their dogs go running.

DORNIN: In a city where one out of six people owns a dog, after a death, the message is being heard loud and clear.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, San Francisco.


CHEN: We're going to talk more now about dogs, big dogs in particular, and some of the concerns about them. We're joined from New York by Sarah Hodgson, who has written several books about dog training and is the founder of the Faith Hope Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses animals to help abused children. And she has a guest with her as well.

Sarah, can you tell us who this is trying to get in your lap there?

SARAH HODGSON, FAITH HOPE FOUNDATION: This is -- yeah, she's trying to get on my lap!

This is my dog. Her named is Shana-mae (ph). She is from a shelter in the city. She is a part pitbull, not a full pitbull, probably mixed with some border collie, which is a herding breed.

CHEN: She is part pitbull, though, and that's the sort of breed that makes a lot of people nervous.

HODGSON: Exactly.

CHEN: Is a dog like this -- I assume, since you have done dog training yourself, this must be a very well-trained dog. But is there something at the very nature of a dog that has at least some pitbull in them that might potentially be vicious?

HODGSON: Absolutely. With these breeds, whether it's a rottweiler or a mastiff or a pitbull, these dogs were bred to be guard dogs and bred to protect, and this is what they were, you know, intended to do. From the studies I've done and the veterinarians and the behaviorists I've spoke with, I've come to believe that in all these dogs there's a protective, territorial gene that is more or less dormant in well-bred and good dogs and dogs that are treated well. But if they are mistreated or abused, this gene can become active, and that's when you get into the danger zone with these breeds.

CHEN: But if a dog is well-trained -- and I assume your dog must be as well-trained...

HODGSON: She's wonderful.

CHEN: ... as any, and she looks very sweet. But is there still something, is there potential out there? Can you absolutely 100 percent guarantee that she would never be a dog that would attack?

HODGSON: She would never attack people, I can guarantee that. If someone took her from me and beat her severely, I couldn't guarantee that, but I can guarantee as long as she was with me and treated the way she is, she would not attack anyone. And many of these dogs out there are going to fall into the same category.

CHEN: But what if she perceived a threat against you, someone she obviously is attached to and cares about?

HODGSON: And if she was on her territory, absolutely. She may -- you know, it may turn on that aggressive protective gene, and yes, she may bite. But -- but out of the blue, out of the ordinary, no.

CHEN: But what if it's her perception then? I mean, it may not -- you know, I may seem threatening to her, I may make some move toward you that she might deem threatening, but I might not have intended that to you?

HODGSON: Generally speaking, there's nothing, as long as I was present and mindful. When you bring a dog into your life or anybody does, their perception is that you are another dog to them. So if you can communicate through training and proper handling that you are going -- you are their protector, as long as you are calm, they will pick up and mirror that perception.

If I was afraid, if I was screaming and there was that level of stress in my environment, then it may trigger it. But unless there is that level of situation, she's going to stay calm. She's going to pick up her cues from me.

And again, that is part of bringing a dog into your life, is understanding that this is a different species. It's an animal that you need to be responsible for and you need to communicate.

CHEN: And to have trained in a way.

HODGSON: And to have trained, exactly. But they are a different species, and people need to understand not only...

CHEN: We appreciate your insight on that, Sarah. I'm sorry, I'm going to have to cut you off today.


CHEN: But we appreciate you bringing Shana-Mae in as well. Sarah Hodgson.



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