New Animal Control.Org

This page is part of the Failed System section of New Animal Control.Org

A System Faltering Because of its Failure to Hold Irresponsible Dog Owners Accountable

The dogs that killed Diane Whipple were Presa Canarios, an enormous breed possessing a lethal volatility that, arguably, surpasses that of any other strain of canines. Imagine a dog two to three times the size of a Pit Bull, stronger, more suspicious, equally aggressive and territorial, and even more easily offended. That's the Canary Island fighting dog. They are genetically truculent creatures, predisposed to attack. That's what they were bred to do.

A good trainer with a strong hand, a kind heart, and a peaceful demeanor may be able to keep one without a resulting catastrophe. But when a chronically belligerent person with no dog training skills acquires a Presa Canario, the script is written, and before the movie's over there's going to have to be at least one scene of disaster and heartache.

The people who owned the killer dogs have never apologized for the attack. On the contrary, they have said several times that they differ with the depiction of the event as an attack and implied that the dogs were merely responding to provocation on the part of the victim. Even after they killed someone, the dog's owners continued to maintain that the animals were not vicious.

One of the dogs was put down by authorities immediately after Ms. Whipple's murder, and the other was eventually euthanized as well. However, weeks after the attack the dog's owners were still calling for the return of the second animal. They wanted to take her back to the same one bedroom apartment and continue keeping her as a pet, taking her out among the public, walking her through the playground where your child could be doing summersaults across the grass, unaware of the danger.

The state of California has what was then a twelve-year-old "mischievous dog" statute. Interestingly, there are no vicious dogs in California, only "mischievous" dogs. Ted Bundy was not a bad boy, the lad was just a trifle mischievious.

The owners of the killer Canarios received the maximum penalty allowed under the state's "mischievous" dog law. They have been prohibited from owning or controlling canines for three years.

Over a period of months their dogs bit several people, terrorized the community and, ultimately, slaughtered a woman. But under the "mischievous" dog law, they would be allowed to acquire more dogs in just three years. The truth be known, under the "mischievous" dog law, their dogs could have killed everyone from the Golden Gate to the Mexican border and, under that statute, the rap would have still been a misdemeanor, and the maximum penalty would still have been a simple three-year suspension of ownership privileges.

Watching and reading interviews with the dog owners, I was struck by the fact that they held themselves inculpable for Diane's death. It is interesting to note that they were both attorneys, with expert knowledge of the law and how the system works. Based on that expertise, they concluded that, in the eyes of the law, they were, indeed, blameless.

They knew the system didn't work because the proof was there before them. In the days after the attack, the police compiled more than forty reports of threats or actual attacks committed by the dogs, including lunging at the stomach of a pregnant woman. Yet, for all those many incidents, no action was ever taken to hold the dog owners accountable.

If we were privy to the details of the forty-some incidents of aggression, and compared each event to the others, we would find that the dogs grew continually bolder and more aggressive as they progressed along a continuum of violent behavior, growing steadily more ferocious with each new outburst. In other words, the dogs were shaped into vicious behavior. Each time they lashed out at someone they enjoyed it, and there was no aversive consequence, so they progressed along the continuum. Likewise, the dog's owners found it rewarding to allow their dogs to lash-out, and their indulgence brought no aversive consequence from the authorities, or from those they terrorized, who knew they weren't the kind of people you wanted to square off with. Since the dog owner's behavior was also shaped, they too grew bolder and allowed their dog's aggression to evolve.

As for the system, forty-some incidents were not enough to trigger alarm bells and stir law enforcement into action. My guess is that the authorities were not even notified. People usually don't bother to report belligerent dogs and malicious owners because it's rare that anything comes from it. In most places, it's almost as difficult to get something done about a vicious dog as it is to get action taken on a barking dog.

Before their trial, Terrence Hallinan, then the district attorney for the city of San Francisco, told ABC news that if the dog owners had been contrite, instead of defiant and unrepentant, they could have avoided the charges of involuntary manslaughter and second degree murder of which they were eventually convicted. And I'm sure that's true; when it comes to aggressive dogs and barking dogs, the system is the friend of the irresponsible.

In the twelve years that California's Mischievous/vicious dog statute had been in effect, the temporary ownership ban against the owners of the Presa Canarios marked the first time that a San Francisco animal control officer ever responded to a dog attack by banning someone from owning a dog, even for a short time.

Everybody who walks, jogs, or reads the public health statistics, knows there are a lot of belligerent dogs out there. Yet, regardless of how dangerous the dog or how ferocious his attack, in those twelve years, in the densely populated jurisdiction of the City and County of San Francisco, no hearing officer ever before ruled that someone was too violent, too crazy, too irresponsible, or too prone to criminal behavior to be banned from keeping a pugnacious dog, even temporarily. My point is not that San Francisco is a particularly glaring example of the laxities of the system. On the contrary, before the Whipple mauling put the city in the spotlight, San Francisco's program was fairly typical of America's animal control efforts, and that's the problem. Almost everywhere, the system goes after irresponsible dog owners with the vigor of a slug on Phenobarbital.

In fairness to the city, I have to add that in the wake of Diane's mauling, San Francisco has grown more serious and gotten much better about vicious dog enforcement. But what an astounding indictment of the system to have a vicious dog law so spineless, with an activating threshold of savagery so high, that someone had to die in the course of an internationally noted tragedy before the statute ever even kicked in.

Judging by the number of ferocious canines in California, I'd have to say that the vicious-dog law does about as much to eliminate vicious dogs as the multiple-household law does to eliminate chronic barking. When you encounter laws that bad, you have to wonder if the real intent in passing them was to eliminate the problem they supposedly were written to address, or to preempt the passage of more stringent laws that might have proven effective.

If you click on the David Vs. Lamoreaux link (coming soon to, you'll see some illuminating Judge Judy footage that really captures the absurdity of the animal control system. It seems that a couple living in a residential section of the city of Los Angeles, for some reason, find it rewarding to keep animals. In addition to chickens and a rooster, they have a Rottweiler and a Doberman Pinscher in their backyard. Every time someone walks by, both dogs explode into an enraged frenzy of vocalization as they throw themselves against the chain-link fence, trying to get at each passing pedestrian. The dog owner's unlicensed, unvaccinated Pit Bull is too vicious to pen with the other dogs, so they keep him chained in the driveway.

When the new guy moved in next door, he did his best to resolve the problem with the owners in a neighborly way, without calling the authorities. However, after a half dozen visits to discuss the matter, and numerous complaints from other nearby residents, it was clear they had no intention of ever quieting their dogs.

After all attempts at negotiation failed, the new neighbor, Mr. Ryan, realized he had no choice. In desperation, he took the bait and called animal control. And life went to chaos as the cold war went hot.

The female half of the dog-owning couple retaliated by destroying Ryan's screen door and beating on his front door while shouting obscenities and screaming for him to come out. The tirade culminated when she sprayed a garden hose through his open window, soaking the entire room, including his mattress, and creating a mess that took a full day to clean up. Additional unpleasantness marred the days that followed.

Against all odds, the victims actually managed to secure a hearing before an official body, that ruled against the dog owners. But it didn't make any difference. It rarely does. At the time of filming, the victims had already suffered through more than a year of continual abuse and there was still no end in sight as they waited for the city to rule on the dog owner's appeal of the verdict. In the meantime, the barking and the hostility just rolled on in waves of noise and hate.

That's typically how it goes in those situations. The ordeal seems to stretch on endlessly, steamrollering through your life like a juggernaut, until it becomes the dominant focus of your existence, sucking up your energy and rendering you forever tense, upset and exhausted. Over time, as fatigue and anxiety diminish your ability to function, the constant disruption of the noise and the antagonistic behavior of the dog owners comes to impact all your relationships and the quality of your every activity.

As you watch Judge Judy/David Vs. Lamoreaux, keep your eye on Ed Villalonga, who is one of the two dog owners. Watch closely as Mr. Ryan, the neighbor, relates the details of his year-long ordeal, talking about how his life has been shredded by the constant noise and the stress of the ongoing conflict he is powerless to resolve. As he describes the past year, the depth of his distress is obvious, but almost the entire time he's talking, Ed the dog owner is barely able to suppress a smile. You can see the delight on his face as he listens to the account of the suffering he has caused. Watch it for yourself and tell me that Villalonga is not using his dogs to torment his neighbors as a form of amusement. For him, the whole thing is just a sadistic lark, a highly entertaining recreational activity. And the legal system has empowered him to do it!

By passing laws that remove dog owners from timely accountability, government has condemned tens of millions of dogs to premature death, and many times that number to lives of unspeakable suffering. And in the process, they have provided disturbed people with a way to legally inflict injury on their human neighbors.

This page is part of the Failed System section of New Animal Control.Org