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September 11, 2005

Dog Lovers

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Do you remember the San Francisco dog-mauling case? In 2001, a young San Francisco woman named Diane Whipple was killed by two of her neighbors' dogs. The dog's owners were an oddball couple -- both lawyers -- who seemed not only unapologetic but to do their best to make everyone in the country hate them. They were so unrepentant and self-absorbed that they seemed to consider themselves the incident's true victims. Both were convicted of manslaughter; the woman, Marjorie Knoller, was convicted of 2nd degree murder as well, although that conviction was later thrown out on appeal. Both have served their sentences and are now out of jail and on probation.

presa01.jpg Just the thing for city living

The Wife and I were transfixed by a recent "American Justice" hour about the case. Poor Diane Whipple, of course; she was bitten 77 times and died at 33 years old. And gigantic curses on all irresponsible pet owners. New York City is full of idiot dog-owners unworthy of their animals, let alone of basic membership in a civilized society. One of them lives in the apartment next to ours. The Wife and I routinely hear him screaming, screaming at his dachsunds -- and that's "routinely" as in several times a day, every day. Should we call the authorities? We don't know. Whenever we see them, the dogs seem so cheerful that we figure they must enjoy tormenting and provoking their human.

But we were especially fascinated by information about Knoller and her husband Robert Noel. The two had adopted a 38-year-old San Quentin inmate known as "Cornfed" -- in prison on a life sentence -- as their son, for instance, and were in business with him illegally, breeding and selling Presa Canarios, monster 120 pound mastiffs that are widely known to be vicious; they're banned in some European countries. The two dogs that killed Diane Whipple were Knoller and Noel's own Presa Canarios. Knoller and Noel were fully aware of how dangerous the dogs can be; the website set up to sell the dogs they were breeding was called "Dog 'O War."

The "American Justice" team did a first-class job telling the sad story, as well as hinting at how bizarre Knoller and Noel are. Surfing the Web later, I learned a bit more about the couple. For instance, Knoller and Noel kept their dogs drugged up on a variety of medications. And, although Knoller is Jewish and Noelle had converted to Judaism, the prisoner they adopted together is a white-supremacist, Aryan Nation kinda guy.

Funnest fact: according to Cathy Seipp, there's evidence that the couple had sex with their dogs.

San Francisco: despite its beauty and its cultural attactions, what a strange, creepy, and frightening place it often strikes me as being ...

Cathy Seipp blogs very entertainingly here. Here's a book about the case. Here's a very involved page about the case. Here's Court TV's ongoing web coverage of the case. I learned here that there are around 1000 Presa Canario dogs in the U.S. I hope none of them live near you. Demonstrate to the world how small your dick is by buying a terrifying and potentially lethal dog here.



posted by Michael at September 11, 2005


What is it with some people and their dogs? I almost never have trouble with dogs trying to bite me -- I assume the owners are constrained by the possibility of lawsuits. But many dog owners think nothing of leaving piles of feces in public areas. It's disgusting and takes quite a bit of the fun out of walking in cities. The few times I confronted such dog owners they were indignant, yet they are always careful to walk Rover in front of someone else's house rather than their own.

Posted by: Jonathan on September 12, 2005 2:35 AM

Yes, you should call the authorities. Dogs will always seem "cheerful"---they want to be loved and taken care of.

Posted by: annette on September 12, 2005 8:12 AM

Jonathan -- Or owners who let their dogs run loose. What's with them? Particularly in cities and suburbs, these jerk owners who apparently think they're too, too special (or maybe they're "love me, love my dog" types) stroll along with their leashes in their hands and their dogs free, pleased with themselves and daring anyone to be so square as to insist they put the dog on a leash. It can get downright terrifying, especially in the 'burbs. The Wife and I sometimes job when we visit friends in the 'burbs, and these big unleashed dogs come racing and snarling up to us all the time. It can be terrifying.

Annette -- You're probably right, tks. Sometimes hard to know what to do, especially in a city where yelling and screaming is accepted as normal. Protest, and you're often viewed as the weird one.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 12, 2005 8:33 AM

Annette: I'm not going to call the cops on mere pooper-scooper violators, and anyway the cops wouldn't do anything. This is a regional cultural problem and IMO will only go away when enough people in my area become Americanized and stop treating public space as a sewer.

MB: People usually use leashes in my area, but I agree it's a problem if they don't.

Posted by: Jonathan on September 12, 2005 9:52 AM

No---I meant the guy who screams at his dachsunds several times a day.

Posted by: annette on September 12, 2005 10:02 AM

Is he calling the authorities for the dogs' benefit or the owner's? The dogs probably don't understand what's going on and will habituate to the noise, but a person who routinely screams at animals might need help.

Posted by: Jonathan on September 12, 2005 4:54 PM

The evidence I've seen indicates that viciousness tends not to be especially well-associated with specific breeds, except insofar as people who want a vicious dog tend to choose certain specific breeds and train their dogs for viciousness. The available data seems very skimpy and subject to manipulation by people with agendas (on either side), however.

OTOH, the danger of a vicious dog dramatically increases with the size of the dog (and thus its breed). FWIW, my preferred solution is strict liability for dog owners whose dogs attack other than on their own property.

(As to trespassers, well, "think of it as evolution in action".)

ps. I've not owned a dog since we had to give up our dogs when we moved to Germany in 1976, and I've been chased by a rather vicious St. Bernard (also Chihuahua, but that's less impressive), so I don't have a dog in this fight. So to speak.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on September 12, 2005 6:05 PM

I heard about the sex bit back when that story was big. I can't quite figure out how you have sex with something that will rip your head off . . . I'm not going to spend a lot of time thinking about the logistics I guess.

It's interesting how we take a freak who makes the news stand in for an entire region.

Posted by: Brian on September 13, 2005 10:52 AM

I remember the sex bit as well, but that's a bit too much to deal with.

After reading this yesterday I actually saw a guy walking one of these beasts you illustrate. I can assure you I waited until he had passed before getting out of my car, and poked my head around a good bit before leaving the house in question with my 4-year-old son.

I do a lot of walking and it continually surprises me the number of times people let large, combative dogs loose to confront pedestrians. I used to laugh at people who routinely took along walking sticks to fend off animals when walking around L.A., but it is regrettably just a sensible precaution. (I think ultimately I could take some of these dogs hand-to-hand, but it would be a tough fight and not one which I am at all looking forward to.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 13, 2005 11:31 AM

Just get some pepper spray. Used to ride bikes a lot and I'd have these 200 pound dogs trying to "catch" the bike. Doesn't do any permanent damage and maybe they learn a lession.

Trying to combat a dog with an ax handle or something always struck me as rather ill-advised.

Posted by: Brian on September 13, 2005 11:58 AM

A couple of observations:

1) Why does your screaming neighbor have Dachshunds, of all breeds? Hounds are very independent dogs and are the least likely to listen and obey slavishly. I'm not surprised they look cheerful; they've probably pulled off another coup on their owner.

2) Bad traits, like viciousness, are easy to acquire and hard to get rid of.

Posted by: Greg Hlatky on September 13, 2005 7:05 PM

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