In Memory of Lucy

by Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition

This is not really my story to tell. I came late to the effort to save Lucy’s life. An effort that ultimately failed today.

But I feel compelled to tell this story, yet another example of disrespect for the law when it concerns an animal’s well-being, the arrogance of public officials who don’t get that they work for us, not the other way around. 

Under California’s Dangerous Dog Law as I understand Lucy’s history, she could not even really have been called a "potentially dangerous" dog. Cal Food & Agr Code § 31602. She had no history of biting or lunging at any person. And, Lucy had not attacked another animal on two separate occasions in a 36 month period. Even if she could be classified as "potentially dangerous" under state law, at most her people would have been required to comply with certain licensing and other requirements. Cal Food & Agr Code §§ 31621, 31641, 31642. Under state law she was not to be killed, however.  

Lucy was certainly not a "vicious" dog within the meaning of state law. It is much easier for officials to declare that a dog is "vicious" under Sunnyvale’s Municipal Code which basically says any dog can be declared vicious if it without provocation chases or otherwise threatens or bites a person or animal. Sec. 6.04.160

But even then state law is clear that "No dog may be declared potentially dangerous or vicious if an injury or damage was sustained by a domestic animal which at the time the injury or damage was sustained was teasing, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog." Cal Food & Agr Code § 31626. Note the Sunnyvale code says a dog can be declared vicious only if it was not  provoked. And, there is evidence the dog that Lucy got in a fight with, the Chihuahua, had teased and tormented her and tried to bite the 2 year old child in her family.  

Regardless, the Sunnyvale authorities declared Lucy was vicious and ordered her death. The City Attorney, David Kahn, concurred. Yet, not only was there evidence Lucy was provoked or teased, the Sunnyvale law states the killing of a vicious dog is just one option and only available if Animal Control determines the dog "poses a threat" to the "public health and safety."  Sec. 6.08.115

There was no evidence Lucy posed any threat to the "public health and safety".  The city’s own dog behaviorist evaluated Lucy and reported she was a "very friendly, well-socialized dog". Lucy’s family also hired a dog behaviorist who testified on a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 as very aggressive towards humans, Lucy was a 0. The staff of the humane society where Lucy was kept during this ordeal reported she was friendly, a loving, sweet girl.

In fact, Lucy was part of a family, Ian Young, Desiree Hedberg, and 2 year old Liam, pictured here with Lucy. They loved her. The family had fostered dogs from public shelters for some time, relying on Lucy to help socialize these dogs.  

Even if Lucy posed a threat to the public, the Sunnyvale code also makes clear there are other options to consider: Her family could have been ordered to obtain a permit to keep her as a vicious dog under certain conditions. Lucy could have been removed from the city. 

Note also the California Hayden Law states:

1834.4. (a) It is the policy of the state that no adoptable animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home….
(b) It is the policy of the state that no treatable animal should be euthanized. A treatable animal shall include any animal that is not adoptable but that could become adoptable with reasonable efforts…."

In an appeal of the decision Lucy must die, Judge Brian Walsh indicated he would like to save her by ordering her to be removed from the city. Several rescue groups and individuals had offered to do just that.

But David Kahn, the city attorney, would not hear of it. He convinced the judge to order Lucy’s execution. 

During an appeal to the Sunnyvale city council to save Lucy, Lucy’s family urged the council members to allow her at the least to leave the city. There were over 25 declarations offered in support of Lucy. Kahn told the city council Lucy had a bite history and had even "severely" injured someone.  It is not clear the city council even learned that its own behaviorist found Lucy was a "friendly, well-socialized" dog.  Kahn did not return calls from Sunnyvale residents and others offering help, offering to take the dog out of the city.

Kahn worked hard to make sure Lucy would die.  

As for the Sunnyvale city council, the 12,339 signatures offered in support of Lucy’s cause did not move them. One person who called to plead Lucy’s case reported the city council member was rude, arrogant.  People who called Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for help were laughed at by his staff who told at least one caller, "The governor doesn’t pardon dogs".

In view of the lack of a bite history, her good temperament and the circumstances of the incident, the laws indicated Lucy should live and at the same time, listed restrictions, if necessary, to protect other animals in the future. The law contemplated a feasible though under the evidence, extreme solution, of removing her from the city. But the city attorney, David Kahn, would not let the laws work. He failed to follow the letter and spirit of the state and local potentially dangerous and vicious dog laws.

Instead, he pursued a vendetta against this dog. Why? Arrogance? Show of power? Anger because people voiced their opinions Lucy should live? Because she was a pit bull? Or, did he think because she was a dog that laws concerning her behavior and well-being could be disregarded, ignored, that when it comes to animals, it doesn’t really matter and he can do what he wants?  

Is that what the Sunnyvale city council and Governor Schwarzenegger thought?

Lucy lost her life because of the abuse of power by these officials, because of their disregard for laws affecting animals, their indifference to animals. Maybe it’s time they lost their jobs.

Click here to view the online memorial for Lucy. 

11 thoughts on “In Memory of Lucy”

  1. Very well written Laura, thank you. We both came to this too late, and it’s a story that belongs to neither of us. But that doesn’t stop my heart from breaking at this senseless death. If only, if only, if only… I guess the best we can do is focus our attentions on the next dog who needs our help, follow our instincts earlier, and not hesitate to act for fear of overstepping our bounds. At least, that’s what I’ve learned from this tragic experience.


  2. Those of you who remember Coco in KC as I do must now add yet another name to your remembered list of tragic, needless deaths..
    We never knew you Lucy, but will never forget you.
    Farewell sweet girl..we will all meet you and your loving family one day at the Bridge.

    Doc Wheeler

  3. I am appalled at the perverted mentality that prefers death to life. Jefferson said, “I tremble to think that God is just.” David Kahn and all the others have a huge bill coming due.

    I can only cry as all the memories of my sweet Coco’s torturous journey flood back tonight. I pray Lucy and Coco have found each other and are romping free of human ignorance, arrogance and avarice.

    We must work – and work HARD – to make sure that those responsible for this atrocity face the consequences of their brutality. Laura, WHAT CAN WE DO?

    Nancy Campbell
    Kanas City

  4. This death cannot go unavenged. That may be a harsh choice of words but, again we see the arrogance of humans having an unalterable effect on the lives of innocent animals. And I believe a “loss of job” is not adequate; if Lucy was made an example of, the City of Sunnyvale should also be made an example of–of what we will no longer tolerate. What is the saying..”Absolute power corrupts and power corrupts absolutely”? Such is the case here.
    I have been following this case since the petition was introduced and, while I am not at liberty to disclose the sources of my information, the reaction of the City officals and those who carried out this execution was so brutal as to require swift and immediate action against them. It is my understanding that, in retribution for the flood of calls, emails, and faxes, Lucy’s family was not permitted to be with her when she was killed. The Police surrounded the building to prevent entrance to anyone they felt might be attempting to remove Lucy from the shelter, she was taken into a room, the door was locked and she was killed. She died alone and undoubtedly frightened. Abuse of power? Far more than that. A vendetta from the word go. And spinelessness on the part of those who were willing to be convinced by this City Attorney.
    This dog did not have to die; her family did not have to be tortured. Alternatives were available and offered to the court. They were ignored so that Mr. Kahn could further whatever agenda he has. And I say HAS deliberately; this will not end with Lucy’s death. It never does.
    Laura, I am in Pennsylvania and might not be of much use in pursuing justice for Lucy but I am part of a group that is devastated by this travesty and, speaking for myself and them, you point us in the right direction and we are there. And I can tell you, from the other animals rights issue we are involved in, we are relentless and not frightened by public servants, at any level.
    I see that I am listed as anonymous. I do not wish to remain so. My name is Joyce Jacobson and I am just sick right now. Please don’t let this end here.

  5. From what I have read and followed about this Kahn, a civil suit should be filed against Kahn, the judge, City of Sunnydale for malfeason, misfeason etc. in office for not upholding the law and doing their job. Seems there is clear evidence here to warrant a suit.

    This was abuse of power and “a HUGE EGO” involved.

  6. I am so sad and sick right now too. This dog looked like such a wonderful family pet. I can’t believe how these people can do this and be able to sleep at night. I just want to hunt down that Mr Kahn. What a heartless son of a bitch he is!!

    If there are any grounds for a lawsuit, a lawsuit should be filed. I will gladly contribute monetarily to help with this. How can a dog be put to death for fighting with another dog? I don’t know all the details about this case, but this dog was NOT agressive towards people, so this just seems completely illegal. I certainly hope the family files a lawsuit. I know they would be supported by a ton of dog lovers out there.

    Janet Miller
    Columbia, MD

  7. Dear Laura…and anyone else who worked on this case, believe me when I write that we all felt personally involved in this, but you led the way. It is obvious that you put your heart and soul into this and I’d like to express my sincere thank you.
    David Kahn is so totally ignorant of dog issues, without a doubt. He apparently has a testosterone (or lack of!) problem and this is the way he “vents”. He must not be permitted to take his issues out on the innocent. There were other avenues, but Sunnyvale put the wrong “man” in the DA position. Now, what is important, is that we not tire of making every effort to voice our concerns to whoever will listen…and for however long it takes.
    Our hearts go out to Lucy’s family, especially little Liam whom she most obviously loved.

  8. Lucy, you were pure love. Unconditional, forgiving, and perfect. Unfortunately, humans are not all the good things that you were. We will not forget you, Lucy, or the love you gave to your family and those around you! The love will remain. Your life has touched thousands of people, dear one. And your life will not have been in vain. May God bring peace to your family and justice to those who took your life.

    Debbie Fraker
    K9 Kindness Rescue, Inc.
    Davenport, IA

  9. Seldom do our elected officials and Code enforcement officers consider the human factor in killing an animal who has lived with people, whether it be a dog who has been part of a family or cats who are the sole family left to an elderly person. They enforce the Code as if they were robots programmed to catch and kill. Lucy was a fine dog. The prejudice against Pit Bull Terriers and their caregivers has reached the level of mindless panic. Any dog, if provoked can turn violent to protect his/her property. Even a poodle can begin to growl and bark if provoked.

    Again, the human factor in this was ignored. Can you feel the pain of Lucy’s family as they fought against the odds to save their companion animal? Can you feel the pain of the elderly lady who has 15 cats who are seized by the Code officer and killed because she is “over the limit” of allowed cats? These “officials” aren’t just destroying dogs and cats, they are destroying people – children, adults, seniors. They are cruel and heartless individuals who care little about the animals they kill and less about the human suffering they are causing.

    I’m so sorry, Lucy. I apologize for the cruelty and lack of compassion that has deprived you of the rest of your life. If you are somewhere, please forgive us. Maybe we can learn a lesson of compassion and caring from your needless death.

  10. Shelter workers (except volunteers) should be professionals with college degrees. Shelters should be overseen by an independent regulatory body. Much of what they do goes back to the 19th century.

  11. We definitely need higher standards for all shelter workers who are involved with the life and death of their shelter animals.
    Just as all research hospitals have an Independent Review Board to regulate all issues, so animal shelters should also have this in place. In that way, the politicians would no longer be able to make independent decisions based on whims, bribery or worse.

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