Pit bulls are known for drawing fear –– which many who defend the breed say is unwarranted. Entire organizations like “Bad Rap” have sprouted to counteract what they call common myths about the breed.
Now that fear has led to a man and his service dog to be kicked off one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars, he and others claim.
In a viral video shared by San Francisco resident and attorney Gina Tomaselli, a man with a pit bull is seen sitting in a cable car as he argues with a San Francisco Police Department Officer.
The officer eventually succeeded in escorting the man off the cable car, according to Tomaselli’s Facebook post, which now has more than 6,800 shares and more than 350,000 views.
Tomaselli declined to comment, save to clarify that she’s not legally representing the man with the pit bull, nor is she acting as his spokesperson. She verified the incident took place Saturday afternoon at about 1:15 p.m.
“Cop forces disabled man to get off the cable car (run by SFMTA) because the driver is afraid of his pitbull [sic] service dog,” Tomaselli wrote in her original Facebook post (which she later modified), and added the operator “refused to drive the cable car unless the disabled man got off the car — even after he presented written documentation of the dog’s status, and then issues him a citation.”
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, said that its operator acted within protocol.
“We understand that some riders need service animals to reach their destination and we want to ensure they can do that safely,” said Paul Rose, a spokesperson for SFMTA.
“The operators of any vehicle have the responsibility of keeping their passengers safe and the rules are that every dog should be muzzled and leashed if they are not a trained service animal,” he said, “This dog was neither.”
The San Francisco Examiner was unable to identify the man, or verify if his dog was indeed a service dog. But Tomaselli said in her Facebook post that it was a service dog. Her LinkedIn profile lists the Humane Society of the United States among her former employers.
Watch the video for yourself on Facebook, here.
In the video, a San Francisco Police department officer can be seen speaking to the man, who is wearing sunglasses and has his pit bull on his lap. They are seated on what appears to be a cable car on California Street, which passes Chinatown as it heads up to Cathedral Hill.
“I won’t get off the bus because I have a right to ride this. I have every right to ride this with my dog,” the man says. Apparently speaking of the cable car operator the man said, “Because he’s afraid of pit bulls, this is happening. This whole issue, you’ve been called here because of him.”
The officer said, “Sir, take a breath.”
The man responds, “Don’t tell me to take a breath, because, I am, I am going to be arrested? You’re going to arrest me. I am irate. I am not impeding anything. I’ve been going on my day.”
One SFMTA staffer, wearing the blue collared uniform of a supervisor, begins to ask riders to disembark the cable car.
Dana Hopkins, a service dog handler in San Francisco who has written about service dogs for the publication “Bay Woof,” told the Examiner “something got completely out of control here, and I have to assume it’s because not only is the service dog a pittie, but the handler is a black man.”
Hopkins said she rides BART, Muni, Muni’s light rail vehicles and AC Transit (in the East Bay) daily with her service dog.
“I am sometimes (but not super often) challenged,” she wrote in an email, “but I have never had cops called or been ejected from my bus.”
There is no legal requirement for owners of service animals to carry a service tag, according to The San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Disability, however there are two questions that may be asked: Is this animal required because of a disability? How does it assist you?
Based on the video, it is unclear if the officer asked the owner those two questions.
The SFMTA’s service animal policy writes that service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as, “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.”
Animals that meet this definition are consider service animals under ADA “regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government,” the policy reads.
Trained service animals are allowed to ride free of charge on all Muni vehicles, and service dogs may travel without a muzzle but “must be under the control of their owners,” the policy continues, and service animals must ride on their owner’s lap, under the owners seat, or as “far out of the aisle as possible,” and animals may not occupy a seat.
In the video, at least, the pit bull appears to be silently sitting on its owner’s lap.