San Francisco is known as one of the most dog-friendly cities in the world. In the city of 805,000 the number of dogs is greater than the number of children. And dog owners have serious political clout.
But sometimes dogs can be vicious and in the public interest it is the duty of police officer John Denny to decide the fate of the animal and the owner.
Rather than having multiple judges with multiple prejudices rule on multiple cases, Denny, a 28-year veteran has been assigned all dog hearings. This system assures the dog and the owner that they will be given a fair day in court. Dogs are judged on behavior, not looks.
Up until the year 2001, people in San Francisco rarely reported dog bites and little was done to keep track of vicious dogs. But in 2001, Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old lacrosse coach, was mauled to death in the lobby of her apartment building by two Presa Canarios.
It turned out that the two dogs had terrorized people on 18 different occasions, but no one ever filed a police report. There was obviously a need for a full-time police unit to protect the public and give a fair hearing to the dogs.
Denny investigates about 450 cases a year and holds around 120 hearings. Only about 15 percent of the dogs are deemed “vicious and dangerous.”
Those dogs have to be microchipped and wear a special red flag. They must be leashed and muzzled in public and the owner must submit to surprise inspections. Owners have to post warning signs at their homes and may be required to attend obedience classes.
After the first violation the dog and owner are put on probation for three years. If the owners break one of the rules, their dogs can be destroyed. Fewer than ten dogs a year have had to be destroyed.
Denny loves the chance his job gives him to correct animal and human behavior before it turns violent.
"One reason I became an officer is to bring compassion to the job," he said. "I'm here to put people at ease. People are very upset about the thought of losing their dogs, and 99 percent of the time, we can come up with a solution." More information