from The Los Angeles Times

San Franciscans Outraged as They Mourn Victim of Dog Attack

Tragedy: Many demand prosecution for owners of animal that mauled woman. Others fear new rules on pets. 

By MARIA L. La GANGA and JOHN M. GLIONNA, Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO--The mauling death of a 33-year-old athlete, whose throat was punctured by a dog that outweighed her, pushed this city to high levels of fear and outrage Monday. People called the district attorney's office, demanding that authorities throw the book at the couple who owned Bane--a 123-pound crossbreed who charged Diane Whipple in her apartment building hallway Friday in an attack so gruesome that police at the scene needed counseling.

Many of those calling the department of animal control wondered whether all canines of similar breed--part English mastiff, part Canary Island cattle dog--should be put to death. But they also pondered whether the dog was abused and what could have driven it to attack.

Callers to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were even more a breed apart; they feared a backlash against animal rights, worrying that landlords might become more restrictive and that leashless dogs might be banned from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where they are allowed to run free in some sections. The Park Service had begun considering such a prohibition before Friday.

The death of the college lacrosse coach symbolizes a particularly gruesome brand of urban nightmare. But here in San Francisco--a city named for the patron saint of fur and feather, where shelters for homeless animals are more plush than those for homeless people--not everyone is afraid of the same thing.

Even so, said Carl Friedman, San Francisco director of animal care and control, "the city is in shock" over Whipple's brutal death. Friedman's department has fielded 50 to 100 calls a day since the attack in an upscale apartment building in flossy Pacific Heights. The SPCA also has received hundreds of calls.

"I am just so sick," Friedman said. "I get sick when people hurt animals; I get sicker when animals hurt people. It's such a tragedy. There have been so many phone calls."

Whipple, who was about 5 feet 3 and 110 pounds, was putting her key in the door of her sixth-floor apartment at about 4 p.m. Friday, when two large dogs bounded toward her. Bane bit Whipple's neck; 112-pound Hera tore at her clothes. Each time the dogs' owner, Marjorie Knoller, tried to get between Bane and Whipple, the dog attacked. Bane dragged Whipple 20 feet down the hallway.

"The dogs got away [from Knoller] and attacked her," said Jess Crosslin, a friend of Whipple's who lived nearby and saw paramedics bring the mortally wounded woman from the building.

She died at San Francisco General Hospital. "The attack went on for several minutes. She never did get away from those dogs."

Whipple's friends said the animal-loving All-America lacrosse player, nicknamed "the Whip," had been bitten by Bane before. "She hated that dog," said Cheri DiCerbo of New York, a childhood friend. DiCerbo said Whipple's roommate told her Monday about the earlier biting incident.

Whipple wasn't alone in her feelings about the dog. Cydnee Dubrof, who lived down the street from Whipple, said the strapping Bane was known as the Beast, Killer Dog and Dog of Death in the neighborhood of high-end apartment buildings overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

"The male owner would physically restrain the dog and pull him to the other side of the street or up an alley to get away from my dog when I would walk my dog," Dubrof said, adding that some local dog owners timed their walks when Bane and Hera were not strolling with their owners.

Jackie David, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, said officers from her agency and its counterpart with the county of Los Angeles had begun to look into reports that the animals once lived in Southern California.

And, according to the Associated Press, two white supremacists serving time at Pelican Bay State Prison are now part of the investigation into Whipple's death. The inmates are being investigated for any role they might have played in organized dogfights. Marjorie Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, who are attorneys, have visited the two inmates in a professional capacity, prison officials said Monday. Authorities did not say whether that's where they got the dogs or whether the dogs were used in any fights.

San Francisco police have been investigating the incident, which spokesman Sherman Ackerson described as horrible. "There was blood and human hair all over the place," Ackerson said. "It was so bad officers on the scene needed psychological counseling."

Bane was put down over the weekend by lethal injection, Friedman said. Hera remains in protective custody awaiting the results of the investigation.

Fred Gardner, spokesman for Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan, said the D.A.'s office is assigning one of its own investigators to aid in the effort. At the crux of the investigation is the thorny question of how much the dogs' owners knew about the animals' temperaments. The answer will help decide what crime, if any, Knoller and Noel are charged with. Knoller and Noel could not be reached Monday. If the owners knew that the dogs had a propensity to fight or attack, Gardner said, they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. They could also be charged with failure to exercise ordinary care with a dog, he said, "and if it's a felony, they could get two to four years in prison."

"The dogs were in Los Angeles at some point and were chained or abused," Gardner said. "The Noels took pity on them and wanted to save them from that fate. In the course of that, we have to find out what the reason was--were they chained because they had bitten, or were they abused?"

Angry callers to the D.A.'s office Monday were demanding stiff penalties, Gardner said. "Whenever something horrible happens, people think harsh prosecution can contain the situation. In this instance, it might. . . . It's fair to say that people are outraged."

Ed Sayres, president of the San Francisco SPCA, said the organization hoped to have its Web site updated by Wednesday with information to help animal owners find proper training for their pets.

"We're getting constant calls," Sayres said. "In San Francisco, the direction is, 'I hope this doesn't make any setbacks to the off-leash dog recreation area or the landlords being more restrictive.' People are afraid of a backlash. This is a very unusual, singular incident."

On Monday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution for a letter of condolence to be sent to the Whipple family. At St. Mary's College in Moraga, where Whipple coached the women's lacrosse team, tearful friends and colleagues worked to organize an on-campus memorial service, and students continued to receive grief counseling.

The tears started Saturday morning, said Carl Clapp, director of athletics at the private Catholic college, "shock, disbelief, just a whole range of emotions, particularly for the young people. Diane was a mentor, a coach and a friend for the student athletes. They've lost somebody who's very special and important in their lives."

And at Alta Plaza, a hillside park where Knoller and Noel often walked their animals, dog owners said the incident is giving all dogs a bad name.

"Unfortunately, with 99.9% of all dogs you're not going to have that problem," said one woman who would not give her name but feared both Bane and Hera. "But you watch, here comes a bunch of new laws that penalize innocent animals: They're going to pass more restrictive leash laws and ban all big dogs from apartment buildings. It's a shame."

As a dozen dogs ran about the park without leashes, dog owner Tom Larson said the ultimate responsibility of a dog's conduct lies with the owner.

"The owners are responsible," he said. "Why would this couple keep two big dogs in a small one-bedroom apartment? Owners need to know the histories of the pets they buy, and they need to know the animal's limitation, especially in a crowded urban environment like this one."


Times researcher Norma Kaufman contributed to this story.

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