Barking order changing for animal unit 

A police officer-run animal court at City Hall has to show the big dogs that the job isn’t just a walk in the park.

The court is hard to take too seriously. An officer investigates a report that a dog is behaving badly — jumping a fence, growling at neighbors or defecating on private property, among other offenses — then a sergeant decides what action its owner should take.

The two officers who currently do that had their jobs increased to full time 10 years ago, following an incident in which two Presa Canario dogs bit Dianne Whipple 77 times and killed her.

Now, after settling thousands of reports, Officer John Denny and Sgt. Bill Herndon of the vicious and dangerous animals unit have to clarify their role and how they operate to the Police Commission at a hearing scheduled for Aug. 18.

"At some point, [Herndon] is going to retire," Commissioner Jim Hammer said. "So, we need to have a brief presentation about what the unit does, what the current staffing is and plans for the future."

In 2009, the unit filed 383 reports and took 92 cases to trial. Those trials take place weekly at 2 p.m. Thursdays in Room 408 at City Hall.

Herndon, who has worked with the department for 33 years, initially planned his retirement in 11 months, but he may leave earlier if the Police Department decides to pull him out of the Animal Care and Control office to work as a supervisor at the Park Police Station.

"We’re not moving him out of the dog court," SFPD Assistant Chief Jeff Godown said. "We’re down on supervisors and we want him to handle supervisor tasks over at Park station."

Regardless, within 11 months, Herndon will leave. Animal advocates such as Sally Stephens, chair of The City’s Animal Commission and the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, are most worried about who will hold owners of ferocious animals accountable when Herndon retires.

"I’m completely comfortable telling someone to complain to the unit about [an unruly dog] and to have a hearing, because it will be treated fairly," Stephens said. "We need to make sure the unit does what it’s doing now."

Hammer said the Aug. 18 hearing will serve a second purpose: to quash recent rumors that the unit is being disbanded.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 

Canine court

 

Statistics on vicious and dangerous dogs from 2009:

383: Bites reported (unit predicts only half are reported)

281: Incidents investigated

137: Hearings requested

4: Cases dismissed

19: Dogs not deemed vicious and dangerous

31: Dogs not deemed vicious and dangerous, but restrictions ordered

27: Dogs deemed vicious and dangerous

6: Dogs deemed vicious and dangerous and euthanized

5: Dogs euthanized voluntarily by owner prior to hearing

10: Seizure orders issued

6: Owners ordered to not own or have custody of any dogs for three years

Source: Police Department’s vicious and dangerous animals unit

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