from SFGATE.COM (San Francisco Chronicle)

    Dog Owners Feel Brunt of Public Unease
Fatal mauling unleashes anger

Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer  


Bay Area dog owners are paying the price for
                 public nervousness after the fatal dog mauling in San

                 Dog owners report that since Diane Whipple died in
                 a dog attack at her San Francisco apartment on
                 Friday, passers-by seem increasingly ill at ease
                 around dogs. 

                 "Dog owners are a little paranoid anyway," said
                 George Alvarez, who was walking his three dogs on
                 Bernal Hill yesterday. "But people who don't like
                 dogs are going to use this tragedy as an excuse to
                 make things more difficult." 

                 Several dog walkers said strangers were giving
                 them a wider berth or offering unsolicited comments
                 and criticisms. 

                 "Hey, you have to leash that dog!" an angry stranger
                 hollered at a dog walker in Walnut Creek

                 In Miraloma Park in San Francisco, where dog
                 owners bring their animals every morning, a
                 Labrador retriever named Titus was fresh from a
                 scolding from a woman down the street. 

                 "The woman was yelling that she couldn't walk past
                 my dog to get to the bus stop," said Titus' owner,
                 Thom Yeamans. "We weren't in her way at all. It
                 was crazy." 

                 Dog owners who consider themselves responsible
                 say they hope the frenzy blows over quickly. 

                 "There's very little middle ground in this town when
                 it comes to dogs," said actor Brian Yates Sharber,
                 who was walking his shepherd mix, Benny. "People
                 love them or they don't. And I'm afraid that people
                 who don't like dogs will use this tragedy as an
                 excuse to speak out, or to become even more

                 "People just need to calm down," said Judy Kurtz,
                 who was walking her retriever, Emma. "I hope
                 every dog is not blamed for what one dog did." 

                 The tragedy came at a particularly unfortunate time,
                 dog owners say, since the Golden Gate National
                 Recreation Area rangers last week granted a four-
                 month reprieve from a proposed ban on off-leash
                 dog walking on several of its beaches and parks in
                 San Francisco. Rangers have said they favor
                 revoking the decades-old policy allowing off-leash

                 A GGNRA spokesman said that letter writers to the
                 GGNRA before the tragedy favored off-leash
                 walking but that, since Whipple's death, the letters
                 were running against. 

                 Few San Francisco landlords allow dogs in rental
                 units, but those will probably decrease, said Eric
                 Andresen, the owner of a company that manages 2,
                 000 San Francisco apartments on behalf of 135

                 At present, he said, only one of those landlords
                 allows dogs in his apartments. 

                 "This tragedy will definitely further restrict those
                 owners who may have been inclined to accept
                 dogs," he said. 

                 Andresen said landlords generally allowed pets
                 when the rental market was soft. Even when the
                 current hot rental market turns around, he said, the
                 Pacific Heights tragedy cannot help but discourage
                 landlords from allowing dogs. 

                 Insurers said they did not expect the tragedy to
                 change the underwriting of homeowners' or renters'
                 policies with regard to dogs. 

                 Injuries caused by dogs are generally covered under
                 liability policies, according to Bronwyn Hogan,
                 spokeswoman for the California State Automobile
                 Association, a major underwriter of homeowner
                 and renter insurance. She said policyholders with
                 problem dogs were told that their dogs would be
                 excluded from their policy or coverage would be

                 "One case, however tragic, would not alter the
                 overall insurance climate," she said. "There would
                 have to be a pattern." 

                 Irresponsible dog owners, not irresponsible dogs,
                 are usually the source of the problem, said San
                 Francisco Police Sgt. William Herndon, who is in
                 charge of conducting hearings on dog complaints. 

                 "I'd like to put a leash on the owners, not the dogs,"
                 Herndon said. 

                 Unruly or threatening dogs should be reported to
                 the Department of Animal Care and Control, he
                 said. Such dogs can face restrictions such as
                 muzzles, restraints, mandatory obedience classes or

                 Aggressive breeds, such as pit bulls and the Presa
                 Canario that was implicated in Whipple's death, are
                 often owned by "cowardly people," he said. Even
                 confiscation of such dogs does not end the problem.

                 E-mail Steve Rubenstein at


©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A20 

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