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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 27, 1959

March 27, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

A Depressing Story Brightens Up a Bit

Paul_coatesYesterday I told you a rather depressing story.

One of its central characters had coldly refused to display any concern for the lives of two young children.

I surveyed the facts with a cynical eye of a newspaperman and concluded that there could be no happy ending.

The two kids had been bitten by a dog.

They faced the extremely painful and dangerous Pasteur treatment as a precaution against rabies because, as their father told me, the woman who owned the dog had spirited it away.

No dog, no quarantine. And without adequate examination over a period of days, the Animal Regulation Department obviously had no way of knowing if the dog were infected.

1959_0327_mintz To be on the safe side, the kids were scheduled for Pasteur shots.

As I said, I could see no happy ending.

But plagued as I am by cynicism, I had overlooked one very important fact.

There are still some pretty decent people in this city.

Two of them stepped in to rewrite the story's conclusion.

I don't know one of them. She remains an anonymous voice on a telephone. But it was she who pinpointed the dog's whereabouts.

I do know the identity of the other. He is deputy City Atty. Sam Palmer.

And he's a guy who can get fighting mad.

That's what he did yesterday when he heard the father's story.

"It was a case of the general welfare being threatened by the malicious act of one person," he told me.

Palmer picked up his phone. He called the people who had the dog and got them to agree to cooperate with the Animal Regulation Department. The animal was quarantined.

Then the young city prosecutor dispatched a letter to the woman who disposed of the dog, asking her to be in his office next Thursday for a hearing.

At that time, Palmer promised, he will consider filing a misdemeanor complaint against her charging six separate violations of the law.

"The trouble is," Palmer explained, "the laws involved in a case of this kind don't contain the kind of teeth they might. But I think this woman, if guilty, should answer to society in some way.

"I," he added, "have a kid, too.

"It's inconceivable to me that anyone would refuse to help when a youngster is threatened with anything as painful as the Pasteur treatment."

Dog Bite Law Is Specific
Palmer called to my attention an obscure city ordinance which requires a pet owner to take positive action in protecting the victim of a bite. The law says:

"Should a dog or any other animal bite a person ... it shall be the duty of the owner ... immediately to notify this department (health) and surrender said animal to said department."

Palmer conceded that the ordinance doesn't allow law enforcement officers much latitude in investigating animal bite cases when the person who owns the offending pet refuses to cooperate.

"You can't," he pointed out, "go around busting down people's doors."

And, of course, you can't.

But, if you're a public official, you don't have to throw up your hands in frustration in a case like this.

Sam Palmer didn't.

And I hope he set a precedent.