I was involved in a strange occurrence the other night in Golden Gate Park. Two pit bulls attacked a homeless guy. I happened to be walking by at the time. I heard a woman screaming for help in the park, so I naturally ran toward her. She ran to me, grabbed me, and told me her friend was being attacked by dogs and begged me to help. She was practically out of her mind. I called 911 and told them what was happening and where we were while I ran toward the sounds of a man screaming and dogs barking.
I’ll be honest. I did not in any way want to wade into battle with two pit bulls, but I felt like I had to do something. As I approached what was clearly a homeless camp around a picnic table, I could see that a man was on the ground on the other side of the picnic table and two big pit bulls, one white and one black, were attacking him. He was screaming in fear and pain. I looked around for some kind of weapon or stick or something to defend myself from the dogs. There was a bicycle there, so I grabbed that and used it as a shield between me and the dogs and moved them away from the guy on the ground. The dogs looked to me as the new person to attack and I spent the next minutes fending them off with the bike. Luckily, the response time of the SF police was impressive. I saw two policemen shining flashlights at me. I waived them toward me. They shouted at me: “Get out of there.”
Unfortunately, this is where the story doesn’t get better for me. When the cops show up in a dark, foggy park and you are part of some kind of weirdness, you basically have to do what they say. They are the ones with guns. They don’t know the situation so I don’t blame them for doing what they do. I retreated toward them (hands up, without the bike), and the two pit bulls went for me. I dodged. I darted. I spun around. I did everything I could, but the white pit bull gave me a pretty good bite in the leg.
After that, the cops took over, swinging their giant flashlights at the dogs to defend themselves. An ambulance showed up and took the man to the hospital. Animal control showed up but couldn’t capture the dogs. The police shot one dog. The dog that bit me ran away. Those are the facts from an eyewitness — me. I tweeted about it. Of course I paid attention to Twitter and local news outlets and blogs. That’s just the kind of guy I am. I used to work at local newspapers and magazines, so it’s kind of in my blood. Plus, if you’re involved in something that is in any way newsworthy, you’re going to want to see how it’s reported in the local news. I’m pretty disappointed with how sketchily something like this is reported. I don’t expect news outlets or bloggers to get it right. It’s not a big story. It’s a one-day story for the local news. But boy did they get a lot wrong. The San Francisco Chronicle (and everyone else subsequently reported) that the second man bitten refused medical attention. I asked for help, but the paramedic told me to drive myself to the hospital. I guess that’s the state of healthcare these days in the U.S. The homeless fellow headed to the hospital will rack up thousands of dollars of bills that taxpayers will cover, but they wouldn’t treat me on the scene. To be fair, this detail is what the police told them, so I don’t fault them for it. The Chronicle online (SF Gate) changes their posts over time to update them with more relevant or correct information, so the story I link to has changed quite a bit since first reported. They got some details wrong at first, but it appears they’ve updated to correct their mistakes. There isn’t really a change log so you can see what has changed (that I’m aware of). But, the positive side of this is they correct errors. I can understand this tough decision they have to make; they’re probably doing it as right as it can be done — but a change log would be great. The SF Weekly blog reported that the second man bitten was the owner of the dogs. I am most certainly not the owner of two pit bulls. No one at the scene knew who the owners of the dogs were. Let’s be honest: The owners of those dogs are probably other homeless people. The park is filled with dangerous people camping in it, and some of them now have very dangerous dogs. This story also suggests that the police are suspicious that I’m the owner of the dogs but wouldn’t say so. Thanks for making me the bad guy. In this NBC News story, I am surprisingly also homeless. And a friend of the guy attacked. This one gets it wildly wrong:
“The owner of Frisco and Cleo went to get groceries at that hour and left his dogs with a friend in the park, according to police and witnesses. When the owner came back, his dog bit him, too, but not as badly. Both men in the park are homeless.”
ABC News also essentially parroted the other stories already online (most of these stories probably just grabbed the details from the Chronicle report, which was the first one to appear online). This story also paints me as being the owner of the dogs:
“A second man tried to help and he was also bitten. Police believe the man who jumped in to help may have been the dog owner.”
Who got it right? The SF Examiner actually got most of it right. And, they even added interesting information about the history of the dog that bit me. Cleo apparently has recently been in custody by Animal Control. Great follow through. They missed a few details and said I was bitten multiple times (which isn’t true), but it’s pretty close to correct. They published their story after all the others and had the benefit of more information. I would like to congratulate the San Jose Mercury News and Bay City News service (through the Contra Costa Times). They are the only ones who reported this small-time story successfully. They only put in the facts they knew and didn’t speculate about the rest. The moral of this story: The only ones who didn’t report untruths? Newspapers. Like, the old-school kind that aren’t super-savvy with their Internet presence. We all know newspapers are dying and let’s admit it — some of us secretly laugh at them for seeming so behind the times. But consider what dies with them: accuracy, prudence, and follow-up. Final Thought This story isn’t about me, and I don’t expect that it should get a ton of reporting. I’m essentially anonymous in this story. I didn’t stick around to wait to give a quote to the local TV folks who, to their credit, did show up to make a few reports like this one. The story being told in these reports is basically “Homeless Man Mauled by Pit Bulls in Golden Gate Park,” and it’s not surprising that the details are wrong. It’s one step up from man bites dog and not worth nailing the details. I’m dying to know more about this story, but I don’t expect anyone will follow up. Frankly, I’d love to see more reporting about homeless people living in Golden Gate Park. Why? Because the issue that underlies this story won’t go away after a few days. I don’t like the homeless who live in the park and wish the police or the mayor would step up and enforce the laws and protect our most precious park from further harm. And I hate pit bulls. I don’t care what anyone says about how misunderstood they are. I lost sympathy for the homeless and pit bulls many years ago, and I’m losing more sympathy as more dangerous people — with their dangerous dogs — continue to filter into the park and set up encampments. ++++ UPDATE Cleo the pit bull is on a 10-day watch at Animal Control. Cleo also had a rabies shot when she was incarcerated four weeks ago (seriously; I’m not joking). The only way for Cleo to be tested for rabies is if she is euthanized, which remains to be seen. It partly depends on if the owner of Cleo shows up to claim her. I will be following up for sure. I am on antibiotics, and my wound is healing slowly but surely.
I didn’t get rabies and die. Saw a group of homeless men cooking over an open fire (which is wholly illegal in the park) at that same location a few weeks later. Back to normal.