Justice done

Convictions: Careless dog owners get what's coming to them: a jail sentence.

March 28, 2002

MOST PET owners leash their dogs. They control them and make sure they don't pose a danger to other people.

That's how it's supposed to work. It's called being responsible.

But Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel seemed completely oblivious to that line of thinking, blind to the very notion that somehow pet owners are accountable for the behavior of their pets.

When their ferocious dogs - which weren't leashed - mauled their San Francisco neighbor, Diane Whipple, to death last year, they expressed shock that anyone might blame them.

"It's not my fault," Ms. Knoller told a television reporter.

Wrong. And as much as anything else, that ignorance - and the couple's repeated public displays of that ignorance - had to play prominently in the minds of a California jury that last week convicted Ms. Knoller of second-degree murder and Mr. Noel of involuntary manslaughter.

There was no choice here but to send a message to this couple and other careless dog owners: If your dogs kill because of your negligence, you could go to jail.

Fifteen to life is what Ms. Knoller's looking at now. That should cure her of the "not my fault" syndrome.

Since the verdict, some are saying it could lead to criminal prosecutions against little old ladies whose French poodles bite the neighbor kids.

But that's nonsense. Ms. Knoller and Mr. Noel acquired dogs they were told could be dangerous. They did it on behalf of another criminal who specifically worried that the dogs weren't being made tough enough. Then they walked the dogs off leashes. And again, when tragedy ensued, they expressed less than a scintilla of remorse or guilt.

That's hardly comparable to a genuine accident involving a dog that was minded a little too loosely.

It's true, as always, that no amount of justice can undo the damage Ms. Knoller's and Mr. Noel's dogs did.

But it's also true that a prison term will give them and other irresponsible pet owners something very real to think about.

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