Saturday, December 15, 2012

An interesting case in California

I saw this case back a few months ago when it first surfaced.  The basic story was that a San Francisco Police Department Mounted Officer was on his horse in a designated off-lead dog park when a dog attacked the horse.  There was a hue and cry that the Officer was at fault for being in the dog area on a horse and that the dog probably reacted out of fear. Several folks commented that this was a case of breed assumptions and discrimination since the dog has been identified as an American Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Today a summary of the investigation by the SFPD was released and it shows a few more telling details that make the case less a matter of discrimination and more a problem with an irresponsible owner, and a dog that had unaddressed issues.

First the summary of details from SFPD:

The Officer was in the off-leash area on horseback, but was allegedly 200 feet from the dog and owner when the incident began.

The dog saw the horseback Officer and targeted the horse from that distance.  The horse was not approaching the dog.

The dog closed the distance and bit the Officer on his booted leg.  The Officer told the owner to take control of his dog-and the owner allegedly failed to do so.

The dog then began biting the horse, which panicked and threw the rider.

The horse ran away.  The dog pursued, reengaging the horse three more times; once at the stable, once in a separate area, and again a third time near an intersection where a motorcycle Officer was able to intervene.

The dog did not just bite at the horse's hooves and lower legs-the dog attacked upwards at the horse's abdomen and cause significant bites there.

The SFPD concluded that the dog had actively pursued the horse rather than reacting in fear, and that the dog was dangerous.

With this listing of factors, I have to agree.  Based on this set of factors-and understand, I was neither there nor have I reviewed the reports, etc.-I have to note some disturbing issues here.

1) Whether the mounted Officer was supposed to be in the off-leash area on horseback is unknown.  The dog seems to have initiated the contact.
2) The owner was never able to get his dog under control.
3) The dog not only made first contact, but pursued the horse and reengaged the horse repeatedly. This is not a fear reaction-this is pursuit of a prey target.
4) The dog did not just bite the closest target (the horse's feet).  The dog appears to have deliberately targeted the horse's abdomen, behavior consistent with the typical canine predatory motor sequence.  In other words, this particular dog acted in a species appropriate manner consistent with killing a larger prey animal.

So much as I hate to see any dog labelled dangerous, the behavior of the dog in this case, regardless of type or breed, makes this dog a threat. And ultimate responsibility here rests with the owner: had the owner simply had a reliable off-leash recall, none of this could have happened.  Once again, the human failed the dog.

Here is the media report from

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