About that dog Charlie


Nothing like a dog story to captivate a city that has so much else going on. And while there are (sadly) dogs euthanized in this city fairly often, mostly because they're unadoptable or found to be dangerous, the particulars of Charlie's story -- and the press attention it's gotten -- has turned this one incident into a world-wide campaign against the Canine Death Penalty.

You can't call the City Attorney's Office about it; the voice mail is full. You can't call Animal Control and Welfare -- the lines direct you to an email address. There are so many callers demanding a reprieve for the American Staffordshire Terrier (aka St. Francis Terrier, aka pit bull) that nobody at City Hall can handle them all.

Supporters have gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition to save him. He made the front page of the Examiner. And now, insiders tell me, the folks who run San Francisco are trying to find a clean way out.

Let's face it: If the execution date goes forward, there will be TV trucks lined up all over, a doggie-death countdown, animal-rights protests -- basically, a clusterfuck that will make the City of St. Francis look horrible.

In other words: If you kill the dog, it's going to be a public-relations disaster.

But here's the thing: City law gives Police Officer John Denny, of the department's Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit, full authority to order a critter euthanized. There is no appeal; his call is final. And he's made his decision: Death for Charlie.

So Charlie's owner, David Gizzarelli, has hired a lawyer and is fighting in court. The latest stay expires at the end of December. It's a long shot that a judge will overrule Denny -- but it's entirely possible that somebody at City Hall will try to find a solution short of the Ultimate Penalty. There are all kinds of options -- the dog could be taken away from Denny and adopted somewhere else. Denny could order that the dog be kept on leash at all times (an excellent idea anyway). It could be sent to a behavior-modification trainer.

Look: I'm not a big fan of pit bulls. They're powerful animals who were bred to be dangerous. They can make fine pets, but I don't think they should be allowed (in general) to run off leash in crowded areas. The city's mandatory neuter law is a good thing, and helps, but still: Treat these often-adorable creatures as constant potential -- potential -- threats, and you're going to be better off.

Yeah, the dog attacked a police horse. Lots of dogs who have never seen horses freak out around them; a good reason why the cops shouldn't ride horses into an off-leash dog park.

I'm not a dog trainer or behaviorist, and I haven't met this dog, but I'm generally against the death penalty, including for animals, if there's any other feasible option. And whatever the outcome, I can tell you there are lot of other people in official SF who are sick of hearing about Charlie and would really, really like to find a way for it all to go away.