Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 13, 2006

Boy recovering from dog attack

Canine put to death Tuesday following schoolyard incident

by Becky Trout

A 5-year-old Palo Alto boy is recovering at home following a severe unleashed-dog attack at Hoover Elementary School on Saturday, Dec. 2, and his father said he is contemplating legal action.

Sean Martin, a kindergartner at Barron Park Elementary, suffered a chipped vertebrae and deep cuts and bruises on his neck after an unleashed female mixed-breed canine lunged at him around 11:35 a.m., as he was playing outside with his brothers -- Grant, 12, and Kyle, 10 -- and friends.

Greg Martin, Sean's father, was inside cutting out cars for the Cub Scout's Pinewood Derby.

On Tuesday, after the Weekly went to press, the dog was scheduled to be put to death, following a mandated 10-day quarantine at the Palo Alto Animal Services and Placement Center. The decision to euthanize had been made by the dog's owner, city officials said.

The dog owner had let his two dogs off leash in an enclosed play area, police Sgt. Sandra Brown said.

One boy opened the gate to the play area but was chased by the two dogs and was unable to close the gate, Don Verplanke, a Cub Scout leader whose son was also involved said via e-mail.

The mid-sized female dog charged the boys, clamping onto the back of Sean's neck and biting deeply, Martin said.

The boys, the dog's owner and some nearby adults frantically attempted to pull the dog off Sean, Martin said.

They were successful and Animal Services officers, fire, police and an ambulance responded to a 911 call, Brown said.

Sean's shirt was "soaked with blood," Martin said.

Sean was taken to Stanford Medical Center and treated for the neck injuries, bumps on his forehead and deep bruises, Martin said.

The dog's owner, whose name was withheld by city officials, apologized and said he felt quite bad about the attack, Martin said. The dog, a spayed female about 3 years old, did not have a history of violence, according to Sandi Stadler, superintendent of animal services for the city. The dog has shown no signs of rabies, she said.

Stadler said the dog may be part pit bull but "actually looks more like an Australian shepherd cattle dog, also truly one of your Heinz 57 (varieties)," Stadler said.

The dog's owner was not cited but the city may recommend that a misdemeanor complaint be filed for having the dogs off leash, Brown said.

Stadler said having a dog off leash is illegal, even in an enclosed area, unless it is on private property or at a designated dog park.

"Dogs should always be with their owner and on a leash, and children should always be under direct supervision of their parents," Stadler said.

If the owner had not chosen to euthanize the dog, the dog would be subject to a "dangerous dog" hearing, where witnesses would testify and an officer would determine the dog's fate, Stadler said. The dog's owner told officers he had taken his dogs to the park for years without incident, Brown said.

Stadler said dog bites are quite common, but this was unusually severe because the victim was only 5.

"I'm definitely a supporter of dogs in general, but it's completely irresponsible to have two pit bulls in a school area (off-leash)," Martin said.

Sean is still stiff and sore and now afraid of dogs, as are some of the other boys, Martin said Friday. Sean also doesn't want to be separated from his mom or dad, a new behavior following the attack, Martin said.

Martin said he is exploring his legal options and investigating the possibility of giving the boys who tried to fend off the attack a Boy Scout award.

Brown said no further investigation into the incident is planned.

The incident has sparked vociferous debate about off-leash dogs, breeds and parental and owner responsibilities on Palo Alto Online's community forum, Town Square, at

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Posted by Gabrielle Vachon, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2007 at 8:29 am

Once again, the media has to mention Pit Bull, even without any evidence, no picture, because people like me who can actualy tell the difference would call to make a complaint for falsley identifying the dog

Posted by Old News, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2007 at 9:36 am

This story is from last year. I believe after much scrutiny it was deemed the dog was a cattle breed mix- either way- dog has been destroyed. There was a long list of postings regarding this incident and defending breeds. Just an FYI :-)

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