“I heard very loud, deep barking, and then a woman who sounded like she was clearly in distress….yelling and screaming,” said runner Lisa Brown-Kinsella, a witness of the dog attacks in Golden Gate Park last week.
Brown-Kinsellam who was just a few feet away from the actual incident, tells the Appeal that the experience has prompted her to seek out resources to help runners deal with dogs.
A regular morning runner through the park, Brown-Kinsella said she was coming back from her routine Thursday morning run along John F. Kennedy Drive at around 6:30 a.m.
Right before hitting the Crossover Drive traffic bridge, another female runner casually warned her of some “loose, aggressive” dogs just beyond the bridge. Brown-Kinsella thanked her and continued to run under the bridge with heightened awareness of her surroundings. Shortly after stopping to fill her water bottle at a nearby fountain, she heard barks and screaming.
She said she had a fight or flight response and instinctively ran away towards the streets. “When I got to Fulton, I could still year woman yelling and screaming,” she said. She immediately started ringing people’s doorbells to get them to call the police. Just when a man opened his door and took out his cell phone to dial, police sirens could be heard. “I instantly felt a little relieved that help was on the way,” she said.
After confirming times with other news accounts, she speculates that the screams she heard was from the third victim, who reportedly had her clothes torn by the dog around 6:40 a.m.
Brown-Kinsella, who’s a dog lover, said she fears “incidents like this create a backlash against dogs.” “I’m concerned about people turning their anger toward the dog and rushing to judgment about animals like pit bulls. I’m still afraid of the situation, but I don’t blame the dog. I think the problem is on the other end of the leash with the way the dogs have been raised or trained,” she said.
After this experience, Brown-Kinsella, a member of the San Francisco Road Runner’s Club , suggested they should find resources to help club members with dog encounters. She contacted club president Julie Knox who said the club plans to meet with the San Francisco Police Department to have an informational training on how to deal with potentially aggressive dogs while running.
However, it might not be that simple — according to Animal Care and Control spokesperson Deb Campbell, while the ACC has tips for pedestrians to manage coyote encounters, they don’t have formalized recommendations for walkers/runners to deal with aggressive dogs.
A lot of this is due to the differences in behavior Campbell says is related to breed. “Pit bulls are bred to fight” Campbell said “in the same way retrievers are bred to retrieve.” While many of us know pits we adore, Campbell says the instinct to attack is in the breed’s nature the same way herding is in even the most urban sheepdog’s DNA.
And with that comes an unpredictability and aggression that can make a poorly trained or unsupervised pit bull dangerous. “They can get very aroused and stay aggressive for a long time” says Campbell, who declined to speculate on what motivated last week’s attacks.
When asked what she would do if on foot and confronted with a dog that behaved threateningly, Campbell said “I’d get something between me and it, like a car, or I’d go high.” For her part, Brown-Kinsella has done some research and passed along this Runner’s World article with tips on how to react during an encounter with a dog.
While Campbell understands that this recent incident has people frightened, she reminds us that “the incidence of dog attacks in San Francisco is very low.” When asked about reports that homeless people “have illegally breeding pit bulls and other canines for sale” in a Golden Gate Park encampment, she said that those reports did not come from the ACC, and that they “have not been pulling puppies out of the Park.”
As for the dogs from last week’s incident, since their owner has not come forward to claim them, they face an additional 10 day observation period for rabies monitoring.
“We haven’t had a case of rabies in San Francisco in over 70 years, so it’s highly unlikely that that’s an issue” said Campbell “but we’re legally required” to watch the dogs for symptoms of the disease until July 11. And after that date, she says, unless their owner comes forward, their fates will be decided by ACC officials.
Eve Batey contributed additional reporting to this story.