Muffin got lucky the day a large labradoodle attacked him and his owner during a walk in their Crescent Park neighborhood. The 8-year-old male bichon frisé with gentle, dark eyes narrowly escaped being mauled after the labradoodle jumped a fence on the 1300 block of Hamilton Avenue on Saturday, June 18.
Muffin's owner, David Kwoh, held his pet up above his head, but the big dog jumped and bit Muffin on the rear, twisting and yanking the little dog.
"The force was so great that I fell on the ground," Kwoh recalled. "The dog bit my pants leg; it was pulling on my jeans. Then he went to bite Muffin on the head and bit and pulled his ear."
Muffin, luckily, did not receive any puncture wounds, Kwoh said. The labradoodle's owners came to the Kwohs' home to apologize and offered to pay for veterinary expenses.
But the attack on Kwoh and Muffin wasn't the first by this dog. And the repeat offenses are illustrative of how some aggressive animals can slip through the cracks in Palo Alto. In the past few years, at least one of the two labradoodles at this residence has attacked two other pets in the neighborhood, and both canine victims required veterinary care, their owners said.
City of Palo Alto Animal Services officers did not deem the offending dog dangerous because no one reported the prior incidents, which occurred in the last several years. At least one resident now regrets she did not file a report on the attacks on her dog, who then needed veterinary care.
Margo Baeth said her dog was targeted twice within six months in 2013 by the labradoodles.
"The first occurrence happened while my husband was walking our bichon, and the second when I and our 4-year-old son were walking our dog. The attacking dogs were able to jump the side fence across their driveway and be on us instantly," Baeth said.
"Until it happens to you, it is hard to understand how very traumatic the experience is. One minute you are peacefully walking, and the next, your cherished dog is screaming and being attacked viciously," she said. "To this day, my dog will do everything in her power to avoid walking in front of that house."
Hyun-Sook Park, another neighborhood resident, is more fearful of dogs since her own labradoodle, Sunny, was attacked by one of the Hamilton Avenue dogs while walking at Duveneck Elementary School, she said.
"I often see the dog owner taking his aggressive dogs for a walk on Dana Avenue. ... Every time I see him walking his dogs, I turn around and rush back home or take a different route," Park said.
She noted that a few days after the attack on the Kwohs' dog, she and Sunny had another run-in with one of the labradoodles.
Park and Baeth did not report the incidents. The aggressive dogs' owners were kind and apologetic and paid for the medical expenses. But Baeth said she now questions not filing a report.
"This is a difficult situation to understand and I don't know the right solution. I could not imagine having my dog taken away from me for any reason, and that is why I did not officially report these incidences," Baeth said. "I truly believe that this particular family would want to protect our animals and families from this happening in the future and possibly believed that they had taken care of the problem."
Kwoh, however, knowing what happened with Baeth's dog, did file a report with Animal Services. He didn't want the dog euthanized, but he did want it to be trained, he said.
The owners did not return a request for comment from this newspaper on what further precautions they plan to take. They received a citation for having loose dogs, said Cody Macartney, Palo Alto animal-control supervisor. He also sent them a "dangerous dog" warning letter. The letter serves as a notice that any future aggressive incidents deemed "unprovoked" (meaning the person was not trespassing or did not strike the dogs) will constitute an automatic dangerous-dog designation and the dog will be subject to a hearing.
Under state law, a potentially dangerous dog is one who, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period, has caused a person to be defensive to avoid injury when the person and their pet are off the property of the owner or keeper of the aggressive dog.
An independent hearing officer decides an animal's fate. It might be banned from the city (and thus would become another community's problem) or euthanized, Macartney said.
Palo Alto Animal Services receives between 20 to 40 animal-bite reports annually involving dogs and cats from the three cities it serves and about 15 to 20 reports of animal aggression, he added.
In most cases, a pet's aggression is not a criminal matter unless a person is seriously injured or killed or the owner knew the animal was dangerous but negligently allowed it to be in contact with persons visiting the home.
But civil liability is a different matter. California has "strict liability" laws; pet owners are responsible for nearly all injuries, except in cases in which the victim is a trespasser, provokes the dog or is a veterinarian treating the animal. And the costs can be considerable.
Pets are considered personal property in California. In a May 2011 California Court of Appeal decision, Kimes vs. Grosser, the court held that an owner can recover the costs of treatment and care for a pet that's been harmed if the costs are reasonable and necessary. The court also held that punitive damages were recoverable when the injury was willful or caused by gross negligence.
The plaintiff in that case sought to recover $6,000 for emergency surgery and $30,000 for care after his cat was attacked.
Macartney said that although the responsibility for preventing dog attacks falls mainly on the dog's owner, everyone should remain vigilant and always keep a dog on a leash.
Citronella-based spray can scare off dogs when they attack, but pepper spray and mace don't work, he said.
The best thing to do if attacked is to fight back: yelling loud in a deep voice; poking the dog's eyes; hitting the nose, the rear or any sensitive area; or pulling up the dog's back legs and doing anything to disrupt the dog's focus.
But "never run -- and always keep your eyes on the dog," he said.