As folks who live with two dogs that weigh in at just under 200 pounds total, Partner and I usually respond the same way when we hear news about dogs being put down for biting a human. Unless they are free ranging strays, we put the blame on the owners, not on the dogs who pay with their lives for the stupidity, cruelty or negligence of their masters. Friends in the business say that walking an uncontrolled dog is like carrying a loaded gun. Our younger dog is a 100-pound-plus full-blooded Rottweiler. Her den mate is likely part Rotty whose mother was probably knocked up by a randy Shepherd. At least he sheds like one. The Rottweiler is a bit of a wuss, but sometimes overzealous in her greetings. Our other one has the disposition of a junkyard dog-;we got him from "Auntie" Cruelty who found him roaming the streets of Rogers Park with a few bites on his face that needed attention. At home they're both a couple of sweethearts; around strangers, one is a joy, the other a challenge.
A matter of days after I returned from a visit to San Francisco where dog/people issues are a hot topic, I heard a TV news report of the death there of Alexis Whipple. She was "mauled" by a neighbor's two Presa Canario breed dogs ( with a combined weight of around 225 pounds ) in the common hallway of their apartment building. Mauling: "to injure by beating or tearing; to bruise, to lacerate" hardly seemed an appropriate word in this instance. I got copies of the local newspaper coverage and the more I read, the more the whole business didn't sit right. Diane Alexis Whipple and her partner were lesbians-;the uneasy feeling increased.
Some days later a friend patched me through to the San Francisco Chronicle site that ran an 18-page letter to District Attorney Hallinan from the dogs' "caretakers"—a rambling, weird document that in essence was an attempt to exculpate them.
A few weeks ago, news media carried a story about Ms. Whipple's mother filing a wrongful death suit against the "caretakers"—married attorneys Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller. Ms. Whipple's partner of seven years, Sharon Smith, had already filed a similar action. Knoller and Noel have been criminally charged in Whipple's death and have been in jail since their arrests.
That feeling in my gut urges me to speculate that what we might have here is a hate crime. The facts are suggestive. The attorneys were supposedly taking care of the dogs "for several months" for their owner Paul Schneider, a prison inmate with some supposed links to the Aryan Brotherhood ( notoriously anti-gay ) . There were reports, which Schneider denied, that the dogs had been bred as protection during drug deals. A few days after Ms. Whipple's Jan. 26 death, attorneys Noel & Knoller finalized their legal adoption of the 38-year-old Schneider.
Knoller/Noel have reportedly been in conflict with their building's owners and managers for some years, filing repeated lawsuits. The then-current building manager was alluded to in the 18-page letter to the D.A. as follows "We understand that Ms. Whipple, her domestic partner and the apartment manager, Aleta and her domestic partners are close friends ... ." They further suggest in the letter that Aleta may have enlisted the aid of her friend "to take action against us."
The letter then gives a chilling account of Koller's version of Alexis Whipple's bloody mauling by the two dogs, Hera and Bane ( described by her as having "a gimpy left rear leg" so he moved slowly ) . Even giving her the widest latitude, by her own account, it was she who approached Ms. Whipple, albeit dragged by Bane after some several moments of staring between the two women—the only version we have, of course, is from Ms. Koller. Alexis Whipple's "error" would seem to have been standing too long outside her own apartment door. The fact that she did not go in suggests that a "conversation" of some kind between the principals took place. But, even foregoing that, by Koller's own account, she pushed Ms. Whipple towards her apartment door and later threw herself on Ms. Whipple, "to protect her" from the approaching dog.
As one who lives with big dogs, I suggest that if they are properly trained and handled, some few might disobey commands only in worst case scenarios. They might try to break to chase small animals ( which in that upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood probably wouldn't be running through the halls ) or, as is likely in this instance, to respond to a perceived attack on a member of its pack. Even then, a handler, concerned not only about possible damage but the welfare of her animal, would quickly re-establish control. Bane was not likely to differentiate between a fight and an ( alleged ) protective action while the entangled women struggled in front of him. He would not be able to understand Koller's alleged screams to Alexis Whipple: "Don't move. He is only trying to protect me." Once Bane entered the fray, Hera left at Koller's open apartment door joined her pack mates in disposing of the "threat." What is telling is that in Koller's version of events as recounted by her husband in the letter, Ms. Whipple never spoke a word to her. No word ... at any time. The only sounds reported do not begin until Ms. Whipple screams during the dog attack.
I suggest that there was enmity against Alexis Whipple on the part of Koller as suggested by her perceived collusion among the lesbians and all their assorted domestic partners. As the dogs had been in Koller's care for several months, she would be aware of their nature and her ability, or lack of it, to control them and should have been governed accordingly. I suggest that she engaged Ms. Whipple in conversation of a nature such to cause her to delay her entry into the safe harbor of her own apartment. That Koller found the strength after the attack to subdue both Bane and Hera and drag them back into her own apartment ( as the letter states ) makes me question her earlier inability to control just Bane. After securing her dogs, she says she went into the hall to retrieve her keys and check on Ms. Whipple—she doesn't record an effort to phone for help.
The whole text suggests an attempt to conceal an altercation that escalated into actions that got out of hand. Since Koller doesn't report any conversation initiated by Ms. Whipple, the instigation must have been hers. If Ms. Koller had wanted to stop Bane as he, in her words "moved slowly down the hall," she could have sat herself down on the floor becoming dead weight. She still held the leash. I submit it was all preventable. I suggest, at the very least, manslaughter occurred in that hallway. The gore, pieces of flesh, the bloody handprints streaking the wall, the pool of Ms. Whipple's blood in the hallway, the screams that sent the neighbors scurrying to call 911, demand justice. The next day Bane paid for his part in the slaughter with his life ... but he didn't hate anyone.
Copyright 2001 by Marie J. Kuda