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Service with a Snarl 

In San Francisco, lizards, rodents, and vicious Chihuahuas have all been declared service animals.

Wednesday, Jun 17 2009

Page 5 of 5

After the last case of the day, the public cleared out of the City Hall hearing room and the police and Animal Control officers shot the breeze. Herndon, however, could only shake his head. That dog? A service dog? Regarding the law, he fumed, "This is just a lack of common sense. Here we have a dog that obviously presents a danger to the public, and [Morris] wants to get service dog tags and expose more members of the public in more and more dangerous areas. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be in a restaurant next to that dog."

Yet Herndon had no say on whether Morris could declare her dog a service animal; nor did anyone else. He did have a say on whether the dog would be destroyed, however. But, no, Herndon did not kill Morris' dog. Fiona was officially registered as a "vicious and dangerous dog" with the city, neutered, and released to her grateful owner several days later with strict instructions to keep the dog publicly muzzled at all times. Within a month, she had been both warned and cited for not muzzling the dog — and, according to Denny, during one confrontation with an Animal Control officer, Morris panicked and fled the scene, leaving Fiona's leash in the hands of the shocked officer.

At the same time, the police and Animal Control were called to Morris' apartment after complaints of rat hoarding; Animal Control memos note 47 rats being kept on the premises. Morris says she rehoused all but four of the rodents with friends by the end of April. Meanwhile, several people in her neighborhood complained to the police in May about their yards suddenly being infested with white-and-black rats.

"I've been on antipsychotics for a long time, but I stopped taking pills," Morris told SF Weekly. "I feel normal with my animals." Without her dog, rats, and turtles (of which she says there are just two), "I don't feel whole."

When asked whether she still planned to declare Fiona a service animal, Morris' response was instantaneous: "Oh, I totally am." At the church dining rooms she visits, "all the other kids have" service dogs. She wants one, too. When she gets around to visiting a doctor or therapist who will provide her with a letter, she will take it to San Francisco Animal Care and Control. She will fill out the forms and be presented with the tags. Director Katz confirmed there is nothing she can do to keep this from happening. She has no discretion in the matter.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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