Rare Presa Canario dogs kill twice in just 10 days

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2001:

SAGINAW, Michigan; SAN FRANCISCO–Parallel fatal attacks in late January moved the Presa Canario, or bull mastiff, to the top of the list of suspected inherently dangerous dog breeds.

Kelly S. Jaime on January 16, 2001 died just inside the door of her apartment in Saginaw, Mich-igan, after an attack by two Presa Canarios allegedly owned by relatives who lived downstairs. Jaime, 22, had married a soldier stationed in Texas three weeks earlier.


In San Francisco, St. Mary’s College lacrosse coach Diane Whipple, 33, was fatally mauled on January 26 by two leashed Presa Cararios with a reported combined weight of 233 pounds. Police reports indicated that the dogs dragged Marjorie Knoller, 45, down the hall to attack Whipple as Whipple tried to enter her apartment. Whipple had moved in with companion Sharon Smith only one month earlier. Whipple was bitten on the left wrist by one of the dogs in December 2000, but escaped serious injury, Smith said, because her watch took the force of the bite.

The male Presa Canario, Bane, apparently inflicted the fatal bite on Whipple, while the female, Hera, tore at her clothing. Knoller was also hurt. Police said the attack was seen through a peephole by a 76-year-old neighbor. San Francisco Animal Care and Control euthanized Bane. Hera–whom Knoller called “a rescue dog with a heart murmur”–was held as evidence.

Felony charges?

San Francisco police lieutenant Henry Hunter told reporters on February 16 that the police intend to recommend that felony charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter be brought against Knoller, who is an attorney, and her husband and law partner, Robert Noel, 59.
Searches of the Knoller/ Noel premises reportedly found that they had a guard dog training manual with photos of Bane on the cover. The manual was said to have been inscribed by Dale Bretches, 44, cellmate of Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, 38, at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Clients of Knoller and Noel in several lawsuits against the California Department of Corrections, Bretches and Schneider are alleged leaders of the white supremicist Aryan Brotherhood. Both are serving life sentences–Bretches for murder, Schneider for multiple
violent offenses including stabbing another attorney. Knoller and Noel began proceedings to adopt Schneider on January 15. The adoption became official on January 29.

Bane, Hera, and six other Presa Canarios were bought for Bretches and Schneider by intermediary Brenda Storey, police say, and then were raised by Janet Coumbs, 49, of Hayfork, Calif-ornia. Police believe Bretches and Schneider hoped to train and sell Presa Canarios under the business name Dog O’War, for purposes such as fighting and guarding illegal methamphetamine labs. They allegedly expected to find customers among the “Mexican Mafia.”
“The inmates became unhappy [with Coumbs] when she told them that six puppies were killed by their mother,” recounted San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken. “Coumbs [also] complained that the dogs had eaten her chickens, her sheep, and her daughter’s cat.” Knoller and Noel sued Coumbs for Schneider, and took custody of the dogs in early 2000. Six were placed in other homes.

Police previously seized from Knoller and Noel three handguns, a shotgun, a computer, and 11 packets of letters, magazines, and photographs. Claiming that the seizures violated attorney/client privilege, Noel called the raids “just another example of the Gestapo kicking down the door of a Jewish home,” and on February 13 said he would sue the California Department of Corrections for allegedly disclosing “confidential information.”

Superior Court Judge Lenard Louie on February 15 ruled that the prosecution could use five of the 11 disputed packets, and was to rule on the rest by February 21. “Law enforcement sources tell us that a search of Schneider’s jail cell turned up a collection of X-rated photos–featuring his new adopted ‘mom,’ Knoller,” Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle reported. More searches were underway at other sites, said San Francisco prosecutor Terence Hallinan.

Had history

“Noel said Bane had his share of run-ins with other dogs– one of which ended in Noel having his right index finger almost severed,” wrote Suzanne Herel of the San Francisco Chronicle. Noel claimed the other dog started the fight, Herel wrote, and said he did not know which dog injured him.

At a February 13 hearing on whether Hera should eventually be euthanized or be returned to Knoller and Noel, mail carrier John Watanabe testified that an encounter with both Bane and Hera had him “fearing for my life.” Former Knoller and Noel neighbor David Moser testified that Hera bit him on the buttocks last summer. Dog walker Ron Bosia stated that Hera seized a poodle by the head, in front of Noel, and would not let go.

Animal control officer Vicky Guldbach read aloud a letter from veterinarian Donald B. Martin to Knoller and Noel, warning them that Bane and Hera “would be a liability in any household.” Noel had trouble with at least one other dog, reported Herel–“a greyhound he once owned who nipped at some children. Inside the hour, that dog was at the vet with a needle in his arm,’ Noel said.”

Greyhounds are believed to be among the breeds least likely to attack humans, accounting for just 11 of more than 6,200 bites recorded in recent multi-year tallies in Palm Beach County, Florida, and Columbus, Ohio. None of the bites resulted in serious injury. Presa Canarios are a different story. A cross of English mastiffs with pit bull terriers, Presa Canarios were reportedly banned in Spain as a public menace more than 60 years ago. Until now they were almost unknown in the U.S., but were cited by National Animal Cruelty Investigation Schools program coordinator Michael Gilling-ham as a breed to look out for.

Representing one Janet Coppini, founder of an organization called TLC that briefly held the city of Petaluma animal control contract in 1995, Noel in early 1996 alleged in a nine-count lawsuit that ANIMAL PEOPLE had libeled Coppini with a two-sentence summary of her removal from the Petaluma shelter by city police. All nine counts were dismissed in 1997.

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