Controversy erupts over police shooting of pit bull in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

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Controversy erupts over police shooting of pit bull in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

Ella McLeod

Amanda Kepley, 38, plays with her dog in Golden Gate Park. She is one of the many homeless dog owners who live on the streets of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

Tessa Petrich, Staff Writer

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Amanda Kepley, 38, plays with her dog in Golden Gate Park. She is one of the many homeless dog owners who populates the area.

People around the Haight-Ashbury district reacted strongly to the killing in March of a homeless man’s dog by a police officer.

At 4:54 p.m. on Monday, March 18, at Alvord Lake Park, near the entrance of Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight and Stanyan streets, an unidentified San Francisco police officer shot and killed a two-year-old pit bull mix after the dog lunged and bit the officer on the leg, according to San Francisco police spokesman Albie Esparza.

Asa McCoy, the owner of the unsprayed female dog named Janaai, was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle to be “drunk and sleeping” nearby the lake.

In a telephone interview, Esparza told the Legend that the officer encountered an aggressive unleashed dog and opened fire after the dog bit him. He was seen by medics at the scene, and later put on administrative leave, which, according to Esparza, is standard procedure during the investigation of a shooting incident.

The San Francisco Police Department refused the Legend’s request for the police report on the incident, but provided the basic facts about the situation. The Legend has filed a Public Records Act request for the report.

However, another San Francisco police officer who heard about the incident described what happened.

“The dog basically attacked the police (officer) … biting on his leg,” said Officer Brett Kaczmarczyk of the Park Street Police Station, located two blocks away from the scene, said during his Sunday afternoon work shift by Alvord Lake on March 24, about a hundred meters from where the dog was shot.

Kaczmarczyk said he is “not afraid of those dogs,” but added that he understands the position that the officer who shot the dog was in: “If you have a pit bull latched on to your leg, that’s a problem,” Kaczmarczyk said. “You gotta protect yourself.”

Word of the shooting spread quickly to Urban students and people in the Haight. The incident took place approximately five blocks from Urban, just after school ended for the day.

“I heard some kid was on drugs and wasn’t paying attention to (his) dog,” said Amanda Kepley, 38. “The officer shot the dog twice … and the dog bit him three times.”

Kepley, like McCoy, is an owner of a pit bull. Her pup is called Maynard, after Maynard Keenan, the main singer in the band “Tool,” and one of Kepley’s favorite celebrities.

“Like a good parent, I got my dog trained to be friendly with police,” said Kepley, wearing worn jeans, with hair in little pulled-back braids that rounded her young-looking face. Kepley added that she is camping around San Francisco. “I don’t own a home or anything like that,” Kepley said.

Her fiancé, Jeremy Buffington, 31, paced nearby while holding Maynard by a leash. He and Kepley have a tent set up next to the Janice Joplin tree, right by Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park.

“I love him like a child,” Kepley said about Maynard, “he keeps me safe.” One of the main reasons Kepley has a dog is for emotional support and companionship. “I spend all day, every day with him,” she said, lovingly, while Maynard lay down in the grass, and tucked his head between his front paws.

“Both parties should’ve been more responsible,” she said.

However, others dispute what really occurred that afternoon.

On a recent Sunday near Alvord Lake, a man named Ready (who did not give his last name) and his friends were selling little knickknacks — mostly jewelry and embroidered pouches — while sitting on a reddish-purple tribal-looking blanket. In front of their trinkets was a lightly-beaten cardboard sign that reads: “Help me get back to Canada, buy some stuff from Mexico.”

Another man, who gave his name as Nappy, played with his puppy, Osita (“little bear” in Spanish). Well-behaved and sleepy, Osita lay quietly between backpacks and orange peels, her head in the lap of Sam, another friend, who patted the dog tenderly.

It was a casual scene: Sam munched from a dry pack of Oriental Flavor Top Ramen. Nappy, whose blond dreadlocks frame a calm disposition and quiet voice, lit a hand-rolled cigarette. Drums thrummed in the background as nearby dogs barked, their street-dwelling owners in tight circles on the grass, guarding their belongings. The sun cast a shadow on couples and families walking along the cement paths.

“(The dog) never bit (the police officer) … that’s a bunch of bullshit,” Ready said.

“A dog is loyal, not (a) vicious enemy,” he added. “I heard a few different stories, but a kid that I trust told me the cop just, like, shot (the dog) right away.”

According to the police report given by Esparza, the dog did bite the officer.

The dogs owned by homeless persons living on the streets of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district are more than just companions: They’re a survival necessity.

To those who don’t have shelter at night, dogs are “like an alarm,” Ready said, protecting street people from those who might want to rob or harm them.

Kaczmarczyk agreed, noting that homeless kids in the Haight are known to steal from each other and that dogs can provide “security and warmth,” especially at night.

The dogs around Haight are called “hippie-heaters,” according to Kepley. They keep the “hippies” warm at night, she said, and they warm their hearts with love.

Though some worry that living on the street is just as hard for dogs as it is for people, owners say they care for their pets.  “I’m training (Osita),” Nappy said. “She usually eats better than me.”

“I get up and walk (Maynard) every morning,” Kepley said. “It increases my health and my dog’s health.”

“Yeah, it’s worth it to have a dog” Nappy said.

Ready agreed: “Dogs really are “’man’s best friend.'”

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