Oakland Cop Shoots At Celebrity Pit Bull
by Hank Pellissier, special to SF Gate
Monday, September 22, 2003
©2003 SF Gate
URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2003/09/22/urbananimal.DTL

Rupert is a famously affectionate 70-pound pit bull who's been profiled in several TV, radio, and newspaper articles as the "demonstration dog" of BAD RAP (www.badrap.org), the Oakland nonprofit that educates the public on the lovability of pit bulls. Despite his celebrity, Rupert was nearly killed early this month when an alarmed police officer shot at him without warning. The bullet missed, but it ricocheted into a living room where it landed two feet away from an infant girl. This article is a composite of interviews with Amber Neiwold (Rupert's owner, and BAD RAP's Vice President) and Donna Reynolds (BAD RAP's Executive Director). The Oakland Police Department was also contacted: A statement from Sergeant Pete Sarna, Chief of Staff for the Chief of Police, is at the conclusion of this column.

Amber, how long have you been Rupert's guardian?
(Amber) I found Rupert about five years ago by a dumpster, near my home near the Fruitvale BART. He was abused, emaciated, abandoned and just 6 to 8 months old. He had infected bite wounds, a dislocated shoulder, a telephone cord wrapped around his neck, and abrasions all over one side of him it looked like maybe he had been thrown out of a car.
Did Rupert recover quickly?
Yes, he did. I was actually afraid of pit bulls before I met Rupert, but then I fell in love with him. Now, of course, he is a bit pudgy and exceedingly friendly.
Tell me about the pit bull scene in Oakland. What's going on?

(Donna) Many urban kids are breeding pit bulls its called "Stupid Cash" because you can sell a pit bull puppy for $50 and there can be up to 13 pit bulls in a litter. Oakland Economics. Kids sell the entire litter when they're just 4 weeks old, except for one female pup, then they dump the lactating mama on the street. The female pup is bred during her first heat there's a huge population out there. The Oakland shelter is full of mostly pit bulls. It's tragic.
Do the kids make money fighting the pit bulls?
(Donna) No. There's a lot of street-corner fighting in Oakland with pit bulls, with some betting, but most of the fighting is just machismo. Young urban guys saying, "My dog can beat your dog!"
Is $50 for a puppy the top price?
(Donna) If pit bull puppies have "blue" coats they can get up to $500 each. Blue is the fad color now; it's a diluted black that looks like gray. A recessive gene. Breeders are forcing the two recessives together to get the cash crop and this is creating lots of freak dogs with health problems, nervousness, even human aggression.

Let's get back to Rupert. Describe his personality.

(Amber) He's very charismatic. He thinks all the world is a friend, which amazes me, because sometimes the world can be real nasty to him. He was made President of Bad Rap in the beginning, before we had a human president.
When did BAD RAP start? What does it do?
(Donna) My husband Tim and I have been rescuing all breeds of dogs for
17 years and we got hooked into doing solely pit bulls about fiveyears ago. They're addictive; they're typically love sluts and first-class clowns.
I co-founded BAD RAP about five years ago. Since then, we've rescued and placed about 200 pit bulls, with the help of 50 fabulous volunteers. We've placed dogs with all kinds of people artists, policemen, lawyers, school teachers.
When did Rupert become a media celebrity for BAD RAP?

(Donna) BAD RAP made Rupert our main "demo dog" after Sean Jones was mauled by a drug dealer's defective pit bulls in June 2001. That was also right after the Diane Whipple tragedy (involving Presa Canarios, NOT pit bulls). The city of Richmond was thinking about banning the breed people were unnecessarily afraid and over-reacting. We had to improve the perception that people had of pit bulls, so we started doing breed education forums. We wanted the public to see normal, well-loved and well-socialized pit bulls, so we picked Rupert as our primary "demo dog" because he's big, beautiful, and exceptionally affectionate. Rupert helped break the ice for lots of people. He'll do obedience drills in front of the camera and generally ham it up.

Tell me about Rupert's public appearances.
(Donna) Rupert has been featured in the East Bay Express, Inside Edition, the KFOG report, and other stories. One of his finest moments was at a demo at the Antioch Police Community Hall. Channel 2 came to interview us; their reporter, Amber Lee, was a bit leery of Rupert so I gently pushed her into Rupert and he responded by slobbering her faces with kisses. She started laughing and that footage became part of that night's top story on Eyewitness News.
Let's talk about the recent incident. How was Rupert nearly shot?

(Amber) I lived with my husband Ken, and my daughter Sasha, in an apartment building that's part of an artist's community at San Leandro Boulevard and 41st Street in Oakland. Officer James Smith showed up there at 8:20 a.m. on September 3 because he needed to get a statement from a mugging victim Ron who had been robbed the night before. Ron also lives in our apartment building. There's a large private courtyard in front of the apartments and the entrance to my home is about 60 feet from the sidewalk.
There were movers there, because we were moving to Colorado the next day. The movers were going in and out the front door, bringing in boxes and packing supplies. The front door was open, and Rupert, who is trained to not leave the courtyard, was hanging out with the movers as they came and went. My other dog, Spiro, a medium-sized mixed breed, was with Rupert. My husband had just brought some boxes inside and he was on his way back outside when we heard a shot in the courtyard. There had been no barking, or warning yell from the officer.
(Donna) We were told that when Rupert saw the officer, he started walking towards him. But Rupert never barked; witnesses will verify this.
(Amber) I heard later from Ron my neighbor, who walking behind the officer and saw everything that the dogs stopped walking towards the officer when he pulled his gun out. That's when the officer pulled the trigger. The reason the bullet missed is because the officer was "leading" the target and the target had stopped.
Has Rupert ever reacted aggressively towards policemen?

(Amber) Oh, no, he's never shown any aggression at all. The irony is that Rupert has worked frequently with police and with Animal Care and Control officers. He likes people in uniform. When he saw Officer James Smith, he probably thought, "Oh, look! A friend!"

What happened after you heard the gunshot?
(Amber) I looked outside through the window and I saw a police officer standing in the courtyard pointing a gun toward my front door. I ran downstairs to find my husband standing in the doorway, his hands in the air, with the officer's gun trained on him. The officer was yelling "Get your dog! Get your dog!" over and over, but Rupert was nowhere to be seen. At this point I panicked, ran outside and began looking for Rupert, who I was sure must have been the target of the shot because I know how prejudiced police are against pit bulls. I thought Rupert must be dying or dead from a gunshot wound. But then, my husband told me that Rupert was already inside. I went back in and found Rupert hiding under the stairs, thankfully unhurt.

I became very distraught that a police officer had just tried to kill my dog, and shot a bullet toward my apartment. I picked up my baby daughter Sasha and I went outside and asked the officer why he had done such a thing. He told me "Back off lady, this doesn't concern you." I said it did concern me, he'd just shot a bullet toward my house, with my 4-month-old baby inside! He again said, "Back off lady." He was very rude.
(Donna) The officer also kept his sunglasses on. Amber telephoned me immediately, and I went over there to help her out.

Where did the bullet go, after missing Rupert?
(Donna) Oakland Police forensics did not find the bullet. Actually, they barely looked for the bullet. They spent some time focusing on where it hit the pavement; but when we asked them where the bullet ended up, the forensics guy explained, "They go up, they come down, you never know where they land."
(Amber) That evening Ken and I found the bullet in the living room. I had to call the Oakland Police Department twice before anyone came down to collect it as evidence. The second time I called they had no record of my first call. The bullet had ricocheted off the cement by Rupert, it hit the metal bar of the awning over our front door, and then it blew through the living room wall, ending up under the futon that my 4-month-old daughter was on at the time.
Why do you think the officer acted the way he did? Why did he shoot at Rupert?
(Amber) I think he panicked. I understand that he felt alarmed, but he had other options besides firing a gun at an occupied building. He could have yelled "No!" or "Go home!" (which is what my Animal Control Officer friends suggest). He was standing right between my neighbor's van and my Subaru wagon. He could have easily jumped on top of either vehicle. He could have run back to his own car. He could have maced Rupert; he could have used his baton. He could have pulled his gun and waited to see if Rupert was actually aggressive before firing. I can't understand putting an entire apartment complex in danger. He nearly killed a 4-month-old baby, because he was afraid of a friendly dog.

What is Officer James Smith's explanation for his behavior?

(Amber) From what I've heard, he's using the Sean Jones tragedy as the excuse for his actions. Sean Jones was a small defenseless boy who was attacked in the street by a drug dealer's defective dogs. Officer Smith is a grown man, who has been trained to deal with all kinds of dangerous and potentially dangerous situations, who was armed with several weapons, who was standing right next to an easy means of escape, who is sworn to protect, who holds himself out as a seasoned, professional officer of the law, and who was dealing with a friendly dog on private property.
Has a complaint been filed? Is there an investigation underway?

(Amber) Internal Affairs didn't return my calls for 13 days, but I finally talked to someone on September 16. He told me that Officer Smith's actions were appropriate because he feared for his safety. I countered that he could have easily jumped up on my car, which he was standing right next to. The Internal Affairs guy said that Oakland Police Department "isn't trained to jump on cars".

(Donna) BAD RAP has talked to the Chief of Oakland Police, Chief Word, who is taking "damage control" steps by telling us that he wants BAD RAP to teach his officers how to conduct themselves around pit bulls. We've already done trainings like this with the Berkeley Police. We taught them the difference between normal pit bull behavior and an iffy dog's behavior and how to interact with dogs they may encounter on the street.
How dangerous are pit bulls, in your opinion?
(Donna) Pit bulls have an inbred bite inhibition in regards to human beings, an off-switch. They're hard-wired to be soft with people. Pit bulls are not known for human aggression just the opposite, in fact.
(Amber) I'm pretty comfortable with most of the pit bulls I work with in the shelters. There's the odd bad seed, but then I've met some bad-seed Labradors that would take your face off if given the chance, so I've learned not to make too many generalizations about any breed. I judge each dog by its temperament, not by its breed. A dangerous dog is a dangerous dog, no matter what breed it is, and dangerous dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds.
Amber's family moved the next day September 4 to Colorado because Ken acquired a job there. Now that Rupert's now longer a local pet, who is going to replace him as BAD RAPS's top "demo dog"?
(Donna) We have two candidates there is Gunther, a 65-pound brown pit, and Samson, a huge 70-pound black-and-white dog who is so calm, a tornado could happen around him and he wouldn't be affected.Statement from Sergeant Pete Sarna, Chief of Staff for the Oakland Chief of Police: "Any time an officer discharges a gun, his supervisor writes a report and this is forwarded up to the Chief of Police. An inquiry is then conducted by our Firearms Discharge Review board and a determination is made if the shooting is justified. We are going to do a very thorough investigation into this September 3rd occurrence. The review can take up to a month; decisions will be made at a future date in a timely manner.

A factor to consider in this case though is that the dogs were in a location where they could have endangered children or anybody. If the dogs had been properly restrained and controlled, this would never have happened in the first place." Hank Pellissier a.k.a. Hank Hyena has been a columnist for Salon.com ("Naked World"), SFGate ("Odd Barkings"), the S.F. Metropolitan ("Frisco Utopia") and the New Mission News ("Civic Stench"). He's also executive director of the Hyena Comedy Institute and co-director of a preschool called The Children's Lab.
©2003 SF Gate
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I'd sue in a heartbeat. This is the perfect opportunity to publicly defend this particular Pit Bulls, if not the breed in general, and show how dangerous fear of the breed is. If what the chief of police says is true (there were many children around so the dogs should have been restrained) then how is FIRING a gun in a child-populated area excused?

Your typical police officer is thousands of times more likely to kill an innocent civilian than is your typical dog. Police are also thousands of times more likely to kill YOUR dog than your average citizen.

keep your dog and your kids away from police, not pitbulls if you are worried about safety.
He had infected bite wounds, a dislocated shoulder,

How can a dog have a dislocated shoulder?

Mary H. and the Ames National Zoo: Regis, Sam-I-Am, Noah (1992-2001), Ranger, Duke,
felines, and finches
He had infected bite wounds, a dislocated shoulder,

How can a dog have a dislocated shoulder?

Um- the same way a human can; the shoulder blade pops out of its socket, if stress is put on the limb the wrong way. I've seen it happen when a dog has slipped and fallen with the front leg trapped underneath.
Um- the same way a human can; the shoulder blade pops out of its socket, if stress is put on the limb the wrong way. I've seen it happen when a dog has slipped and fallen with the front leg trapped underneath.

Yeah, I guess but it's a lot less likely to happen. Dog shoulders are a lot less mobile than ours are. The reason we dislocate shoulders all the time is that it's pretty much only soft tissue holding the joint together, which gives us a huge range of motion at the joint (thanks to brachiating ancestors), and that most of this soft tissue reinforcement is over the top of the shoulder, leaving the axilla vulnerable. That's why shoulders almost always dislocate downward.

Melanie Lee Chang > Form ever follows function. Departments of Anthropology and Biology >
University of Pennsylvania > Louis Sullivan (Email Removed) >
Oakland Cop Shoots At Celebrity Pit Bull by Hank Pellissier, special to SF Gate Monday, September 22, 2003[/nq]As always, there's a little more to any story than meets the eye. I know Rupert, Amber, and Donna. In fact, Amber & I did a 15 minute TV news feature together for the local CBS affiliate and I was also at the Antioch incident she describes. Donna is a saint, and she and Amber work tirelessly for the breed. That said, it is very easy to perceive Rupert as a threat. He's a very large dog and has been allowed to keep that friendly pit bull trait of running at and jumping on any new human in joy.

In fact, encouraged. Amber's method of dealing with people's fears of the breed (or dogs in general) is to launch Rupert at them and have them see that no harm comes from it. I watched her do this with a TV intern who was very afraid of dogs, and it was very, very clear to me that she doesn't comprehend how fear feels and doesn't pick up on it when people are fearful. It would also be a little more understandable if people could see the converted factory/artist's lofts area where this took place.

The courtyard is actually the open internal driveway/loading dock area and it's large. The area is industrial rather than residential and in an area of high dog-fighting activity under the elevated transit tracks across the street. I'm not saying that the officer was in any way justified in firing his weapon - just that these things are never as simple as they first appear.
Lynn K.
How can a dog have a dislocated shoulder?

Um- the same way a human can;

Humans' and dogs' front assemblies are put together so differently that I'm having some difficulty envisioning how a dog could dislocate a shoulder. Is it a common injury for dogs?
the shoulder blade pops out of its socket, if stress is put on the limb the wrong way.

Seems like the elbow would go first.
I've seen it happen when a dog has slipped and fallen with the front leg trapped underneath.

Ouch. I suppose so. Then again, dogs' range of motion in the shoulder is more restricted, so there are more "unnatural" angles to pop the joint.

How is a dislocated shoulder treated in a dog? Reduction, as performed on humans, doesn't seem likely (but I think we've already shown that what I consider possible and reality aren't always the same thing). Wouldn't the shorter upper arm and tighter connection to the rib cage make getting the right amount of leverage difficult?

From a quick-and-dirty Google, it seems that amputation is a common outcome for dogs who've endured long-term dislocation of the shoulder. Yikes!

Mary H. and the Ames National Zoo: Regis, Sam-I-Am, Noah (1992-2001), Ranger, Duke,
felines, and finches
Lynn, thanks for the cautionary note.
Amber's method of dealing with people's fears of the breed (or dogs in general) is to launch Rupert at them ... men more than women. Emotion: smile I'll add it to the list of no-nos for our adoption committee to watch for.

You know I'm in partial agreement with you about the length of time we keep Pits.
But the committee is so cautious about who they allow adopt them. The newest proposal is to require volunteer hours working with them before permitting it.
Actually, it won't make much difference.
Yesterday, a new dog-walker asked me to assign her an appropriate dog, but "not a pit bull."
"You'll be like all the rest," I told her. "First, no pit bulls. Then, 'Pit bulls are so sweet!' Then you'll fall love with one pit bull. Then, you'll adopt that pit bull. Then, we'll never see you again, except on reunion days."
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