As it stands, PHS decides whether a dog attack merits hearing. The victim can choose to pay the county $350, and plead their case against the attacking animal, and the assessment of the PHS officer. The County organized “independent hearing” (independent of the view of PHS), however, is set by a County employee who is a prior PHS/partner organization employee of over two decades.
The City of Menlo Park is not involved in setting the hearing, yet the decision handed down is that of the City. The County squarely places the responsibility and hence the liability of the decision upon the city. City attorneys are invited but the Menlo Park attorney did not attend the hearing for Cleo that I requested. At the hearing for Cleo, Cleo was not declared a dangerous dog, and no restrictions were placed on the owner or the dog.
As a comparison, our neighboring city, Palo Alto, takes all animal bite cases to a public hearing at no cost to its citizens. In recent Palo Alto hearings, a Palo Alto Police Captain adjudicated the hearings, while the lead Animal Control Officer participated, as well as the citizens who were animal owners and the human and animal victims of the attacks. Their hearings are public and can be accessed via a website Web Link. There is no opportunity to view public hearings scheduled by San Mateo County.
In cities served by Palo Alto, if an animal is declared dangerous at a hearing, and the animal is moved out of the jurisdiction of Palo Alto Animal Control, the ACO will contact Animal Control at the new jurisdiction to report the dangerous animal’s new location.
My dog Sparky, a toy poodle, died after being viciously attacked by Cleo. In a split second my 15 lb Sparky was carried tens of feet away from me by a 110 lb “Cleo” and shaken violently. Cleo’s person stood there, doing and saying nothing for over three minutes. She finally very calmly instructed Cleo to “drop” (in a foreign language) and the dog complied. The next time I met the duo was a couple of weeks after the incident, with Cleo being walked ahead of her person on a loose leash, yet again. Having recently lost control of Cleo, the woman clearly did not feel the need for a muzzle or a choke collar that would give her additional control. I shuddered to think this was bound to repeat-- something had to be done.
As I spoke with my neighbors, I learned Cleo has a history. Months back a neighbor’s cat “Annilese” was killed in her own driveway by Cleo, and a dog, Memphis was viciously attacked resulting in him losing 17 teeth. There were accounts of “near miss” situations: an owner resorted to tossing his pet over the fence to protect it from Cleo.While walking their dogs, many have witnessed Cleo viciously barking and lunging at the gate facing the sidewalk. Multiple neighbors mentioned Cleo escaping on multiple occasions. These accounts were presented at the hearing in the form of emails, and by neighbors who spoke at the hearing, including owners of Annilese and Memphis. A copy of the recording (hearing date: Jan 11 2021) can be obtained for $5 by emailing [email protected]
Cleo killed two pets and seriously injured a third within a single year-- and on just one street. Cleo may have more victims, particularly since she moved on our street as an adult just a few years back. We don’t know where she came from. Cleo’s living situation was unusual: she lived on a rental property (not with the owner of the house). She does not belong to the tenant either. This is highly irregular since most people live with their pets, unless an animal is kept for sport.
As if spurred on by her acquittal, Cleo escaped yet again on Feb 6th ending up on a neighbor’s porch. Luckily his cats were inside at the time, but PHS Animal Control refused to intervene when called on.
Hearings are critical in ensuring that the animal is licensed and ownership established. The letter stating the decision from the hearing was addressed to two names: “person walking the dog” and the “owner of the house”. Who was to be held culpable? Clearly the hearing officer was not provided with the license stating the name of the owner. PHS had records of two dogs at the address, and they sent another license form after the attack on Sparky. Was Cleo the third dog? At the hearing PHS Animal Control Officer did not clarify the number of dogs they had records of living at the address except stating that multiple dogs do not raise an alarm, since dogs die. However, sending license forms for each attack could result in a new name for each attack. The hearing officer did not inquire names and attack histories of the other dogs PHS thinks live there. Cleo was the only dog there.
In Palo Alto, the Animal Control Officers are in the Palo Alto Police Department and provide complete Animal Control services to the cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Los Altos Hills. Animal Control can be contacted regarding matters such as stray dogs; sick, injured, or dead animals (including wildlife); aggressive animals; animal bites; animal cruelty or neglect; animals in distress; livestock or pet show permits; and other animal related municipal code violations. Pets In Need manages the Palo Alto animal shelters.
Cleo had escaped the house yet again after the hearing, but is now said to have left for North Carolina. It is likely that my having expressed intent to file an appeal to the decision, led to Cleo leaving town, for now. However Menlo Park has no way of truly knowing that Cleo has left or ensuring she does not come back. I share these experiences so they are used to inform the upcoming animal control contract the city is set to consider on May 25th. The hearing for Cleo brings highlights the multiple ways in which PHS failed us:
1. Did not take the case to hearing when Annilese was killed and Memphis bitten.
2. Claimed lack of cooperation from owners as the reason for not taking the above-mentioned case to hearing, which was refuted by the owners at the hearing.
3.Did not take the subsequent third case of Sparky to the hearing.
4. Did not verify licensing and number of dogs at the address.
5. Refused to retrieve unattended and unleashed Cleo on Feb 6th 2021 (after the hearing), and claimed not having received the call from a neighbor afterward; implying a lack of record keeping in the very least.
Additionally the fact that future neighborhood safety should guide all decisions is lost on all: Animal Control, County of San Mateo, and the hearing officer. Failing to advise Cleo’s owner to cover up the gap under the gate through with Cleo maimed Memphis the dog, or recommend a double gate after Anniliese was killed following Cleo’s escape, and failing to ask or require the owners to post a “dangerous dog” sign that would have allowed me and others to be vigilant of Cleo, failing to recommend a muzzle or training are indicative of their inability to understand their function. Failing to take any of these actions yet again at the hearing is merely baffling and seriously undermines confidence in both the county and PHS.
The decision letter reads “All relevant factors were considered in a light favorable to the attacking animal “. Should it not read “ all relevant factors will be considered in the interest of keeping the neighborhood safe”? Is that not the purpose of a hearing particularly when the victims are dead? This bolsters the view that there is a fundamental lack in understanding of their role and explains the victim/owner blaming throughout the process. Each of the above stated steps could have been taken in the spirit of keeping the community safe, but weren't. I am going to assume this is standard practice because not doing so raises further speculation on what was unusual or “special” about these cases.
The County failed us by refusing to investigate these lapses. The County’s Grand Jury report from 2016 points to similar issues: Web Link. The report points out the ~70 year long relationship between PHS and the County and is critical of the county’s role (pages 3 and 8). It points to many lapses by the County prior to the report. The history of faltering on audits and inspections continues, since a midterm audit (2017-2018) of Animal Control was likely not done. Only an RFP for the audit was found in public records, not the audit report.
I urge the Menlo Park City Council to issue their own RFP to contract with an agency such as the City of Palo Alto for animal control and shelter. City of Palo Alto contracts with Pets in Need, 871 Fifth Ave., Redwood City, located close to the Menlo Park border. By contrast, Peninsula Humane Society’s Animal Control is at 12 Airport Blvd, San Mateo, 14 miles from Menlo Park. PHS adoption center is in Burlingame, 17 miles from Menlo Park.
Menlo Park should be able to afford a better arrangement for its pets and their humans, one where its citizens do not have to pay $350 for a hearing organized by an ex-PHS employee resulting in no additional safety for the neighborhood. I urge the Council to give earnest consideration to all options available at this time.