‘The writing was on the wall’: Dog’s unprovoked bite of child could have been prevented, say prior victim, neighbors, and officials

A city hearing officer ruled earlier this month that a local Australian Shepherd should be classified as a “vicious and dangerous dog” after a September 14 hearing found it had behaved aggressively and bitten at least two people, most recently an eight-year-old child .

However, this was not the first hearing for Pilot the Dog. In 2019, Xavier Blake, an adult who lived in the same Noe Valley building as Pilot, testified that the dog bit him. Despite a subsequent recommendation by the San Francisco Police Department to declare pilots malicious and dangerous, a hearing officer ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the designation. The bite, the hearing officer said, did not injure Blake’s skin, and it was merely recommended that pilots wear a muzzle in public.

However, that did not seem to be the case. A muzzle-free pilot bit the eight-year-old child in June 2021 while the boy was walking with his father Philip Van Dervort in the Noe Valley.

“The writing was on the wall,” said Blake, the 2019 bite victim who lives in a unit next to Pilot on Dolores Street. Blake, along with other tenants of the building, stated that piloting has been a problem for years.

The situation becomes even more complicated for the building’s tenants as Pilot’s owner Clare O’Hoyne lives with Beth Connell, the building’s owner and landlady.

Referring to two additional bites discussed at the 2019 hearing, which the Hearing Officer dismissed as “hearsay,” Maria Schulman, another resident of the building, said at both hearings that they did not report them “because we were retaliatory feared by Mrs. Connell as our landlady ”. . “

Blake, Schulman and other renters have a dispute pending with the Rent Board alleging that Connell retaliated against them after the 2019 hearing. They declined to comment on the details of the ongoing hearings. Connell declined to comment on this article and O’Hoyne was unavailable.

Connell is helping care for the seven-year-old dog, and the day he bit the child in June she was out for a walk with a muzzled pilot.

Philip Van Dervort gave Connell his phone number in anticipation of receiving the dog’s vaccine information, which owners are required by law to provide. The child, who “panicked” and was bleeding, said his father at the hearing, was subsequently treated in an emergency room.

It wasn’t until the child’s mother, Heather Van Dervort, posted a post on the neighborhood app NextDoor that O’Hoyne, the dog’s registered owner, texted the family.

Heather Van Dervort said at the hearing that she was “disturbed” when O’Hoyne did not immediately provide Pilot’s records, which eventually revealed that Pilot’s rabies vaccination and registration were out of date on the day of the incident. The dog was brought for the current vaccination the day after the incident.

Heather Van Dervort’s June post on Nextdoor drew responses from others citing alleged pilot bites. However, no other victims came forward to testify until the September 14 hearing.

“I’m just sorry that so many people had to be bitten,” said Heather Van Dervort after the decision in September. “I’m glad it’s finally going to end.”

Although her son, now nine years old, has recovered from his wound, he still suffers trauma and anxiety from the attack, including recurring nightmares about dogs, she said.

“I think you have to stand up for the law and protect the people in our neighborhood and other children. I don’t enjoy that. You know, I’m not out to hurt anyone, ”she said. “I think all of this could have been prevented.”

This October 1st screenshot shows NextDoor users, including O’Hoyne, replying to Heather Van Dervort’s post (note that some comments have been deleted or edited since the original post was made in June).

Blake, the tenant whose charges opened the 2019 hearing, is still questioning that ruling. For one thing, he and other tenants viewed Pilot as vicious and dangerous, as described in the San Francisco Health Code: a dog that bites an animal or human unprovoked, or “any dog ​​with a known tendency, inclination, or disposition to attack unprovoked”.

However, Blake’s injury was rated “minor” by Department of Health-appointed Hearing Officer Janelle Caywood, who also “urged” O’Hoyne, pilot in public and on the leash and muzzle in the back of the building shared with others to lead tenants, including Blake.

Virginia Donohue, executive director of Animal Care and Control, who also served in that capacity at the time of the 2019 hearing, said she agrees with Caywood’s decision insofar as the recommended actions have been followed. “But the dog can’t put on its own muzzle,” she said.

“In my opinion, our landlord has touted the 2019 [decision] as evidence that our ongoing pilot concerns were unfounded, ”said Schulman. “That led to two and a half years of stress for us and ultimately, I believe, to the fact that a child was bitten so badly that it deserves a trip to the emergency room.”

As a result of the recent decision, the pilot must wear a leash, harness and muzzle in public spaces, and a sign must be posted at his residence to warn that a vicious and dangerous dog is present.

Blake and Schulman said the 2021 decision made them feel more secure. “I feel a little discouraged by how long it took,” Blake said. “But it is definitely a step in the right direction.”