San Francisco, CA - This is the second installment in a series of videos about the Department of Animal Care and Control in San Francisco by Mike Black of Black Summers Productions, LLC. This installment is 44 minutes long and focuses on SFACC’s failure to properly manage the risks posed by vicious and dangerous dogs in the city. It also combines parts of a March presentation by John Denny, a veteran hearing officer for the City's Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearings.
The documentary shows trends that we are seeing in animal control departments across the country. There is a decrease in the number of dangerous dog investigations, an increase in failing to follow up on dogs declared dangerous and an increase in adopting out dogs with bite histories and aggression. The priority of public safety is deficient or absent in many agencies today, despite their role as "law enforcement." The priority instead is to increase the "save rate" at all costs.
Overview of Second Installment
From 3:20 to 9:38, one sees dog attack victims testifying during the Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearings. "These hearings do not award any money for damages or cost. That is for an actual court to adjudicate. And while they can offer victims some sense of justice, their real purpose is to protect the public against future attacks from dogs known to be potentially dangerous," the narrator states. Yet, these hearings have since turned into a "kangaroo court," Denny states.
From 10:20 to 24:00, Denny identifies many of the problems at SFACC, including what the death of Diane Whipple taught them. Homicide detectives learned that 66 people had witnessed the two presa canarios acting in a menacing and aggressive manner before her death, but no one had made a report. That's when Denny helped establish the Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit within the police department, which began collecting all dog bites, attacks and menacing acts for review.
"We are less prepared for a dog attack today than we were before Diane Whipple. Just let that sink in a little..." - John Denny, March 15, 2018
Denny also talks about the underreporting of dog bites and attacks and that when they are reported, they are not being investigated. "There are at least 500 reports sitting in an envelope right next to the dispatcher's office at Animal Care and Control, as we speak, that have never seen the light of day," Denny states. SFACC is collecting bite reports, but is failing to forward them to the Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit for the vicious and dangerous dog overview process.
From 29:38 to 40:00, the attack of Emma Howell involving a dog named "Hudson" is discussed, which sums up SFACC's willful recklessness regarding dangerous dogs currently. Emma provides testimony in a Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearing where Denny presides. Due to the attack being a "sustained" mauling, the dog was ordered destroyed. We later learn that at that hearing, an SFACC officer, who did not identify herself as one at the hearing, testified in Hudson's defense.
Mike Black provided the top 10 findings of the documentary series so far to DogsBite.org.
Findings by Documentary Creator
As independent filmmakers working on a documentary about the failure of San Francisco to enforce its own dog control laws, these are the ten most shocking facts we have learned about San Francisco Animal Care and Control ("SFACC").
Black Summers Productions, LLC
San Francisco, California
- It is SFACC’s express policy not to enforce San Francisco’s dog leash law. Under the city’s Health Code, SFACC is responsible for enforcing all animal control laws. But the current management expressly refuses to enforce the dog leash law. When the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury recently recommended that it start doing so because of dog attacks and bites in the city, SFACC rejected the idea as unwarranted. SFACC leaves any enforcement to the San Francisco Police Department.
- SFACC does not accept as a bite any dog bite that does not break the skin. Bites can break bones without breaking the skin, but SFACC will not take a report of any bite that does not break the skin. (See: 19:40)
- SFACC does not keep track of and monitor officially dangerous dogs. Related to this, SFACC does not investigate reports of aggressive dogs generally, whether or not skin is broken by a bite.
- SFACC has corrupted the hearing process for dogs accused of being dangerous. The Health Code provides that the Police Department or Department of Public Health appoint hearing officers, but SFACC now names the hearing officers, while attempting to control their decisions.
- SFACC has no effective oversight. SFACC is allowed to run itself as a kind of rogue agency with no outside power overseeing or reviewing its operations.
- The current management of SFACC has no public safety or law enforcement expertise. As part of that lack of professionalism, there has been a history of forgoing written orders and directives as well as memorandums of understanding with other departments.
- SFACC has failed to make its database readily, directly accessible to the San Francisco Police Department.
- The current head of SFACC, Executive Director Virginia Donohue, has been allowed to maintain a gross conflict of interest in owning a private, for-profit animal boarding and dog training business.
- SFACC will not respond to complaints about dogs in national park areas in San Francisco. Bowing to enormous pressure from politicians and some dog owners in San Francisco, the U.S. National Park Service gave way on a strict rule of all other national parks — no off-leash dogs allowed — and has allowed dogs off leash in such popular parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as Ocean Beach and Crissy Field. In return, and despite the fact that the NPS has no mechanism of its own (for obvious reasons) for dealing with incidents caused by dogs, SFACC refuses to respond to complaints about such incidents.
- SFACC wants to treat pit bulls like any other dog. San Francisco has a pit-bull-specific ordinance enacted in the wake of the killing of 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish by his family’s pit bulls in 2005. SFACC hearing officers and employees have dismissed that fact, as SFACC pushes pit bull adoptions on the public.
First Installment and More
This is the first installment of a multi-part series about the dereliction of duty at San Francisco Animal Care and Control by Black Summers Productions, LLC. The segment is just over 7 minutes long and was released August 5, 2018. The segment highlights how SFACC fails in their duty to prevent attacks by rejecting the enforcement of leash laws. At 3:20, one sees this with stunning precision, when SFACC executive officials "abandon the scene" of a stubborn pit bull owner.
"We are thoroughly convinced of their devotion to the well-being of animals. Their current practices do not show the same devotion to public safety against dog attacks and bites," states the report. "Since the Diane Whipple attack," we fear that San Franciscans have become complacent about the dangers posed by a small percentage of dogs in the city. "It is our purpose to overcome that complacency and to improve public safety, so that such an event will never happen here again."
On March 15, 2018, former police officer and veteran hearing officer for the city's Vicious and Dangerous Dog hearings, John Denny, made a presentation to the Commission outlining problems at Animal Care and Control that compromise public safety in San Francisco. This video is 49 minutes in length and contains the entirety of Denny's presentation. This is a "must watch" for all readers interested in what is happening to animal control departments across the country.