Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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The San Francisco Dog Mauling | Animal Behavior Expert Opinion

San Francisco dog mauling
Prototypical Presa canario

The San Francisco dog mauling is about the tragic death of 33-year-old all-american lacross player, Diane Whipple. Whipple’s death immediately became a national news story.  The bizarre nature of the circumstances surrounding the case was well-publicized.  Moreover, Whipple was a popular and attractive gay person in a socially reactive and pro-gay San Francisco. Two massive Presa Canario dogs, Bane and Hera, took Whipple’s life in a brutal manner. Moreover, the case became of significant legal interest because second-degree murder charges were filed against one of the owners of the dogs.

Many of the issues in the San Francisco dog mauling are similar to the issues found in other civil and criminal litigation involving fatal dog attacks. As such, the issues in this high-profile case illustrate the interesting interplay between dog behavior and the law.

Dog bite expert, Richard H. Polsky, developed a strong interest in this case after having been retained by the defense as an expert in animal behavior. Throughout the course of the proceedings Polsky worked closely with the defense, particularly attorney Bruce Hotchkiss, counsel for defendant Robert Noel.

Background

Bane and Hera were owned by neighbors of Whipple: a married couple, 60-year old Robert Noel and 46-year old Majorie Knoller. Noel and Knoller, both practicing attorneys. Noel and Knoller had been keeping Bane and Hera in their sixth floor, 800 sq. ft. apartment in the upscale Pacific Heights section of San Francisco for about 4 months prior to the incident. Whipple lived on the same floor with her partner, Sharon Smith.

Prosecutors argued that during the time the dogs resided with the defendants, the dogs behaved in a manner that must have given the defendants sufficient knowledge to know that Bane and Hera could kill a human. Prosecutors also argued that Noel and Knoller callously disregarded the safety of others and that they did not take any steps to reduce the grave danger the dogs presented.  In a nutshell, from a legal perspective this is what the San Francisco dog mauling is about.

Defense arguments 

  • Bane & Hera were dangerous by nature
    People who encountered the dogs said that the dogs had behaved aggressively either towards them or their dogs;
    Bane inflicted severe bite to the hand of defendant, Noel, prior to the incident with Whipple;
    Photographs of over 100 bite marks to Diane Whipple’s mauled body;
    The Presa canario is an inherently dangerous animal.
  • Defendants knew of the dangerous nature of Bane and Hera
    Noel or Knoller were in presence of Bane or Hera during their displays of aggression.
    Defendant’s knowledge of breed characteristic of the Presa canario dog.
    Defendants acknowledge in letters to Pelican Bay prisoner, Schneider, that the dogs were aggressive.
    Defendant’s knew of Schneider’s desire to breed and sell aggressive dogs

 

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