Evan DuCharme/S.F. Examiner file photoA volunteer works with a dog up for adoption at Animal Care and Control.

Police unit dealing with dangerous dogs needs to remain

The math regarding dogs in San Francisco is staggering: There are an estimated 120,000 pooches in this city, which is well above 2,000 per square mile. That type of density makes the possibility of conflicts great — as is seen in the 823 reported dog bite incidents last year.

The vast majority of dog owners in The City certainly are responsible and caring individuals with well-behaved pets. But there are exceptions, and the need to police those people and animals that fall on the wrong side of the law is important.

San Francisco was the site of an infamous fatal dog-mauling case in 2001 in which two Presa Canarios attacked and killed Diane Whipple in the hallway of her apartment building.

That attack led to greater enforcement in the realm of addressing aggressive dogs, especially with the staffing of the San Francisco Police Department's Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit. That unit, though, has operated for two years without an investigator. And now its last officer is set to retire next year, taking with him a decade of knowledge. The Police Department said in a statement to The San Francisco Examiner that it is looking for a replacement officer to staff the unit.

The importance of this police unit should not be taken lightly. The retiring officer, John Denny, pointed out that investigating dangerous or aggressive dogs has taken him to some “scary places, knocking on some pretty scary doors, looking for some pretty scary people and dealing with some pretty scary people.” This type of work should fall to a sworn officer who has the full authority and backing of the Police Department.

Advocates worry that with Denny's departure some of the responsibilities of the unit could eventually fall to the Animal Care and Control Department — a situation that would be undesirable on several fronts.

One issue is that Animal Care and Control is already strained under its budget to carry out the jobs it needs to do, which include enforcement of state and local animal laws, veterinarian services, providing an open-door shelter and responding to animal abuse cases.

Another issue is that the department is tasked with carrying out the orders from the vicious dog unit. The body that adjudicates dog cases should be separated from the one that potentially penalizes the animal or the owner.

San Francisco learned from the Whipple case the importance of identifying potentially dangerous dogs early and dealing with them, and that is a lesson that should not be forgotten.

editorialsOpinionSan Francisco Animal Care and ControlSan Francisco Police Department

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