Blame Charlie’s owner’s deed, not the breed

Charlie prepares for his new home at a dog sanctuary (Photo: SUSAN DYER REYNOLDS)

When a dog named Charlie chased and attacked a police horse at Crissy Field five months ago,the media put on their usual pit bull and pony show, replete with ignorance, vitriol, misinformation, and downright lies. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s C.W. Nevius loves a bad pit bull story, because people who feel passionately on both sides fill up his comments section and make it look like someone’s reading.

For KGO Radio host Tim Montemayor, it’s very black and white: “Pit bulls are all killing machines!” (Though, strangely, he likes to point out that he “used to own a pit bull.”) Montemayor is perhaps the most misinformed; he said Charlie chased the police horse because “pit bulls were originally bred to be herding dogs.” (In fact, they were bred to bait bulls, like all of the bulldog breeds). Tim Redmond, Bay Guardian executive editor, opined that pit bulls “were bred to be dangerous” (many dogs were; for example, Rhodesian ridgebacks used to hunt lions). He also feels that pit bulls should not be “allowed to run off leash,” but my well-behaved pit bull spends a lot of time off leash and has never attacked anyone or anything — though several Chihuahuas and a Lab mix have attacked her.

That’s right, Messrs. Redmond, Montemeyer, and Nevius; of the four of us, I’m the only one who actually sleeps with a pit bull every night. I’m also the only one who knows anything about the history of the breed, in part because I grew up with pit bulls and am a longtime advocate, and in part because as a journalist I feel it’s important to know something about the topic you’re discussing.

The media isn’t alone in spewing vitriol and downright lies; many pit bull and dog rescue activists have taken to social media claiming that the City isn’t really going to send Charlie to a sanctuary, and denouncing Animal Care and Control (ACC) Executive Director Rebecca Katz for the way she handled Charlie’s case. I know Rebecca, and she’s actually a huge supporter of pit bulls — including the ones who, unlike Charlie, are wonderful animals facing death simply because there are no homes.

Cindy Marabito, the self proclaimed “American Pit Bull Examiner” who blogs prolifically for the Examiner, thinks it’s all one big conspiracy and ACC is hiding Charlie so they can kill him later. As a traditional journalist, I often harp about the way major news outlets trivialize and muddy real reporting by letting anyone write anything under their recognizable brands, and Marabito’s Examiner blog more than proves my point.

When a Facebook page supporting Charlie but not his owner appeared, Marabito said it was run by “a splinter group” led by “a person with an agenda of anger.” When recent photos of Charlie popped up on that page, Marabito wrote that Katz had “violated the terms of the court mandate by sending Charlie to unknown location.” (I’m pretty sure she meant “an” unknown location, but the Examiner doesn’t fact check their bloggers, let alone copy edit them). Marabito and others like her love to blame ACC, but there’s really only one person to blame and that’s Charlie’s now-former owner, David Gizzarelli.

When the story broke, that a pit bull chased and attacked a police horse at Crissy Field, I knew there would be an irresponsible owner at the other end of the leash — that is, if Charlie were wearing a leash. Yes, Crissy Field is an off-leash area, but Charlie has serious “prey drive,” something a responsible owner would have known. Had Gizzarelli leashed Charlie when the horse appeared, none of this would have happened.

After Officer John Denny of the SF Police Department’s Vicious and Dangerous Dog Unit recommended Charlie be euthanized, Gizzarelli did something right: He took his story to the media. It quickly went viral, and I have no doubt all the attention helped save Charlie.

But Gizzarelli, who’s had his own brushes with the law (including charges of elder abuse), should not be held up as a hero; in fact, he’s no stranger to irresponsible dog ownership: there was a pit bull before Charlie named Sara. In her 13 years, Sara was found wandering the streets three different times. In August of 2000, she had a large mass hanging from her stomach and two hernias containing “large amounts of abdominal contents.” Gizzarelli didn’t pick up his very sick dog for five days. A year later he brought Sara, so sick she couldn’t walk, to ACC and dropped her off to be euthanized. While the law in San Francisco requires pit bulls be spayed and neutered, Gizzarelli fought neutering Charlie, and Sara wasn’t spayed (I wouldn’t be surprised if Sara was Charlie’s mother).

Even after relinquishing ownership of Charlie, Gizzarelli continues to hawk “Save Charlie” t-shirts and mugs. But if you really want to help, send your donations to Friends of Animal Care and Control (, because it’s ACC that will likely be paying to bring Charlie to his new home at a dog sanctuary.

Gizzarelli is the kind of irresponsible owner who gives the rest of us good pit bull owners a bad name and our good pit bulls a bad rap. I’m glad that Charlie got a second chance, but I don’t think Gizzarelli learned anything. Sadly, he’s probably already on Craigslist looking for his next pit bull.

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