Pit Bull Sentenced to Euthanasia for Horse AttackPublished December 20, 2012
When I read the story about a pit bull being maligned and sentenced to euthanasia for attacking a horse named Stoney and mounted policeman Eric Evans after they rode through a dog park, I was outraged. I wanted to sign the petition to save Charlie, now with over 100,000 signatures, especially since the dog is a pit bull, a breed I know and love as a member of my family.
What is a horse doing in a dog park? Why is a dog on animal attack being treated more harshly than some dog on human bite attacks? There are always two sides to every story. The full version of this story from the San Francisco Police Department can be found here (warning: graphic photos).
David Gizzarelli, Charlie’s owner, says he was about 100 feet from the other dogs Charlie had been playing with in the area when Evans and Stoney rode within 100 feet of them. When Charlie began barking and circling the officer and the horse, Evans said, “Get him,” instructing Gizzarelli to get his dog. While Gizzarelli says Charlie is not trained to attack ("We say ‘get it,’ ‘get the ball,’ ‘get the stick’), Charlie misinterpreted. Gizzarelli also contends that Charlie never tried to bite Evans on the leg.
After Stoney threw Evans and Charlie began chasing Stoney, no one knows what really happened until the SFPD says one of their officers scared Charlie away at the stables where Stoney was trying to retreat.
Charlie was initially returned to Gizzarelli because there were no previous complaints about the dog. Gizzarelli was given four federal citations for assault on a police horse, a police officer (by Charlie), failing to control a pet and creating a hazardous condition.
John Denny, hearing officer for the SFPD vicious dog unit, says he learned the full facts of the case weeks later when presented with photos of Stoney’s injuries and Evan’s testimony during the vicious dog hearing. Upon hearing the case, Denny ordered Charlie be put to death. Charlie has been in the custody of San Francisco Animal Care and Control since late August.
“This case strikes him (Denny) as being unique as he has not seen this type of case where a dog exhibited this type of prey drive toward another animal and as well as exhibiting aggression toward the officer on the horse,” says Michael Andraychak, spokesman for the SFPD.
Motions have been filed to overturn the decision, but a judge has denied the request. An appeal is in process and Charlie has been given a stay of execution until December 31.
Denny says there are approximately six documented cases in the past decade in which park service horses have been chased by dogs in the park and the dogs lives were spared. Charlie is the first to be sentenced to die.
There are approximately 450 dog bite reports annually throughout the city and of those, 120 vicious dog hearings are scheduled. Five percent of those dogs, or about six per year, are ordered killed.
Andraychak says, “In the vast majority of cases, we find a way for them to remain with their owner; we do not take this lightly.” Denny and Andraychak both deny that Charlie’s sentence has anything to do with Charlie being a pit bull. The Bay area organization, BADRAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls), one of the rescues involved in saving the Michael Vick dogs, issued a statement saying they believe it is an “off leash dog issue,” rather than a “pit bull” issue.
Denny also says after interviewing Gizzarelli that he had “grave reservations” about both Gizzarelli’s failure to control Charlie on that day, as well as Charlie’s high prey drive and the dog owner’s ability to control Charlie should he attack again. Although Gizzarelli admits he never saw Stoney again after he arrived at the stables, where another officer had Charlie, he has maintained the photos of Stoney’s injuries were “doctored” to make the injuries appear worse. He also says that he believes it was Stoney who was out of control.
Alexandra Picavet, public information officer for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area says that Stoney’s veterinary bills totaled more than $1200 and Stoney was out of service for more than two months. Picavet says that Evans was also injured and was off work for two days following the incident.
The off leash area in Crissy Field, which is not a fenced-in dog park, has been controversial since at least 2001. The park service tried to restrict the area to on-leash only in 2005. It has been used by dog owners since at least 1979 to let their dogs romp and play and a federal judge overturned the park service’s efforts to mandate all areas of the park on-leash.
Picavet says mounted police routinely patrol the entire park, but Gizzarelli says that he has never seen horses in that area and neither has Charlie.
Not all dogs will chase horses, but some will bark, especially if they’ve never seen a horse before, says Brad Phifer, the director of pet behavior services at Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana. He says that without knowing Charlie or witnessing the exact circumstances, that Charlie’s response sounds like an abnormal, heightened response. “When we look at where he was biting, it sounds like a very extreme response,” he said.
Phifer added that not all dogs are suited for off-leash areas, particularly if they are not fenced and that all owners should make sure their dogs are under voice command. “They should also be paying attention and learn to read their dog’s body language,” he says.
Denny confirmed other online posts that Charlie was also evaluated by the animal behavioral unit at the University of California-Davis. “A positive evaluation of Charlie would not have resulted in proceeding with the order to euthanize,” says Denny.
Gizzarelli declined to verify if Charlie was evaluated by an expert. “I can’t comment on that but we were involved in lengthy negotiations in which my attorney submitted all kinds of restrictions for Charlie, but they wouldn’t agree to anything.”
David Gizzarelli asked me at the end of our interview if I had any opinions on this case.
I do. My heart hurts for:
- A system with off-leash dog areas (as this one in this national park is not a fenced-in dog park, nor was it set aside for this purpose. Dog owners use it and are welcomed to as long as their dogs remain under voice control), most of which have no oversight and loose rules, if any. For the safety of all, dog owners should be able to prove their dog is social and well-trained on voice command, especially in stressful, unexpected situations. Charlie was 18-months at the time of the incident and Gizzarelli says the only training he had was what he did with his dog. It’s very fortuitous for everyone involved that Stoney and/or Charlie did not hurt anyone else in that chase across the park.
- Gizzarelli because when I look at my own dogs, especially our own pittie, Sweet Sade Sue, I know his love for his dog. I believe him when he says, “I’m just a dog lover trying to save my dog.”
- Stoney and Evans because they both obviously sustained trauma.
- Denny who, by the statistics, does not take these cases lightly. I also believe him when he says, “It’s not about punishing anyone or any dog. It’s about believing if the owner can do what’s necessary to prevent another attack. My first priority is protecting the public.”
- Charlie. My heart hurts mostly for this dog, who has been sitting with no direct human interaction (as ordered by San Francisco Animal Care and Control because he’s shown aggressiveness to handlers there during this stay, as well as when he was confined there in June, which was due to a situation unrelated to any incident he caused), for nearly four months. Charlie is not allowed outside of his double run kennel, but SFACC officers says he receives about 20 minutes a day of human interaction and play through the bars and he is in a room that receives natural, as well as artificial light, and he is eating well. That kind of confinement for so long in a noisy shelter environment is stressful on any dog. I don’t know what Charlie’s true temperament is, only what has been characterized by Gizzarelli and on the other hand, what has been characterized by the park service and SFPD. It would help if the public knew the results of Charlie’s professional evaluation at UC-Davis, but despite our efforts, those results are not being discussed by either party involved
This case should at the very least be a cautionary tale to all dog parents; I believe we can learn a lot from Charlie. Maybe it will be the recognition by a dog parent that not all dogs are suited for off-leash areas, especially ones that are not fenced, because they are not well socialized or well-trained and obedient enough to be the loving dogs we know them to be at home.
Whatever our own take away from Charlie’s story, we should never let him and other such stories be forgotten, but instead take a meaningful look at every aspect of the issue and work toward positive change. Only then, maybe, will we be able to progress as a society with regards to animal welfare.
What do you think of this case? Tell us in a comment.