Stern warnings were handed out at the Dolores Park community meeting Wednesday night: fun can quickly turn to danger; the frolicking chase can become the hunt.
Sitting in chairs upholstered with burnt-orange fabric, in a room the color of split-pea soup, about a dozen dog owners listened to a panel of experts talk safety and how to be serious about playtime at the park. Owners of big and small dogs came to listen to the experts. Some politely raised their hands to ask questions; some whispered tips to one another on the side.
The meeting was called because a couple of weeks ago, two pit bulls attacked a Lhasa Apso at Dolores Park. The owners of the pits fled the scene, and the last update Police Officer Ryan Crockett has heard is the small dog, named Bloom, had gone into surgery after her skin began to rot.
Crockett is the entirety of the one-man Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit in the San Francisco Police Department. He fields all reports of dog bites — from small to large — in the city. The position was created in the wake of the lethal mauling of Diane Whipple in 2001.
More serious incidents make it to City Hall where, every week, an administrative hearing officer listens to about three or four cases of dog attacks. These officers have the power to determine if a dog is “vicious and dangerous,” at which point the city can order the dog to be trained, muzzled or, at worst, destroyed.
No one wants that to happen. And Crockett wants to assure people that’s not his objective. Don’t be afraid to report an incident — however small, he says — he’s not trying to punish people.
Crockett came into the position in 2016, after doing homeless outreach in the Haight District. He ended up working a lot of dogs in Golden Gate Park and was excited to work with dogs full time.
Two experts from the SPCA kicked off the meeting with a serious lists of dos and don’ts:
- Don’t put your hands in between the fighting dogs
- Do try to distract an aggressive dog by splashing water on it or making a loud noise
- Don’t pull a biting dog if it’s latched on to something
- Do stay calm, take a breath, and try to wait the dogs out
Hans Kolbe, the head of the Dolores Park Ambassadors, raised his hand and pointed out a kink in their advice.
“Sometimes a dog is like a kid,” he said, looking around the room, “if I get bitten, it’s better than my little dog getting bitten.”
The panelists demurred. They, also dog owners and lovers, fully understand that many would do anything for their four-legged companions. Ariel Stephens and Emma Hansson explained the goal is to create a distraction, so that the dog is interrupted from the bite. Air horns can be effective distractions, pepper spray not as much.
Kolbe seemed convinced.
“Don’t be afraid to be rude,” advised Hansson, a canine behavior specialist with the SPCA. “It’s better than regretting it later.”
If you have any doubts about your dog, she suggests putting a basket muzzle on as a precaution. “The safest dog in the park is the one with a muzzle,” she says.
Crockett agrees. He says that he often see people trying to provoke dogs to bite them for insurance money.
That shocked the mild crowd.