There but for the grace of …

April 8, 2005 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


In January 2001, something terrible happened in my neighborhood. I can guarantee you heard about it. A 33-year-old woman, just coming back to her apartment with groceries, was brutally – and fatally – mauled by her neighbor’s two dogs.

I never met Diane Whipple, but what happened to her could have happened to me. Literally.

As a dog “parent” and someone who spends much of my time out and about in San Francisco with my trusty furball sidekick, the idea that a dog could do such a thing horrified me. What horrified me more was learning that I had actually encountered these animals, and had things gone differently, I could have suffered a similar fate.

If you missed it, the story of Diane Whipple’s murder was the stuff of fiction. Sadly it was all too true. A couple, defense lawyers, had taken possession of two dogs (Presa Canarios) that had been owned by one of their clients. This client, a white supremacist drug dealer, was in prison and his prize breeding bitch and stud had been taken in by the lawyers. I was never sure why, but probably to retain them as property. These lawyers also had adopted this inmate client, ostensibly to gain access to juvenile records.

This lawyer couple lived in a one-bedroom apartment in an upscale building in the ever-so-bougois San Francisco neighborhood, Pacific Heights. Over the course of many months there were incidents with many a neighbor and these folks with the dogs. I could regale you with many, but the bottom line is simple:

The original owner (remember, white supremacist drug dealer) had bred these dogs specifically for aggression, given them the taste of blood and taught them to kill. Now keeping in mind that this breed has a propensity for dominance as it’s used for protecting livestock and for police/protection work, that they were genetically guided by selective breeding to focus on the aggression and then taught to use that aggression … there is problem #1.

Now the new guardian owners, these lawyers, had these dogs and with the volume of incidents that took place, the question was: a) were they entirely ignorant about the potential of these dogs to do harm or b) did they just not give a shit?

Based on my own experiences, I’d have to say the answer is a resounding B … and it appeared that the court agreed. But more on that in a minute.

On a Friday afternoon in late January 2001 I had just come home from work. It was an otherwise peaceful and relatively quiet afternoon. Shredding that silence it sounded as though every emergency service vehicle within a 20 block radius turned on its sirens and began racing down the street. Police cars, ambulances, and then the truck and paramedic from the nearby fire house – all of them skidded around corners, and raced by. Everyone on the street stopped and you could see folks turning their heads this way and that, attempting to hear where a crash had happened, or smell the smoke from what clearly had to be a multi-alarm fire. But nothing. And so we all went our ways.

The next morning I opened the San Francisco Chronicle and the front page had a horrific story. The night before a woman who lived merely blocks away from me had been torn apart in the hallway outside her apartment … by two bull mastiffs.

Now I was confused.

First of all, the thought of a bull mastiff doing such a thing just didn’t compute. Second of all, even if they had, there wasn’t anyone in the area who had two bull mastiffs. I’d have certainly seen them at some point. That’s how San Francisco is – frankly any city with a dog community. You live there long enough, if there’s a dog, you know it.

Later that day I was watching the news. It was the top story. And as the newscast ran on, they flashed a picture of Diane. I recognized her from the neighborhood. We didn’t know each other but I’d certainly seen her and her partner getting coffee and wandering around Fillmore Street from time to time. Then it happened. The “perp walk” video. Shots of the front of the building, a cordon of police and the two suspects, the lawyers, being walked out of the building in handcuffs.

That’s when I gasped.

You see, I’d had run ins with both of these people. Two separate occasions. Each of them more chilling than the one before. My take away from my interactions was simple. The dogs were dangerous. The people were callous and even had pride in the dogs’ danger.

A CourTV synopsis:

Law getting made:


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