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Off-Leash Dogs: Owners Fight Increased Ticketing at Glen Canyon Park

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by Beth Winegarner
Wednesday, Aug 1 2012

One dusky June evening, a woman was reportedly jogging with her small, off-leash dog deep in Glen Canyon Park when a coyote snatched the pooch in its jaws and ran off. When Animal Care and Control responded, they couldn’t find the jogger, or what remained of her dog.

In response, Recreation and Park Department police handed out a rash of citations in the park, where it’s illegal to take dogs off leash, said department spokeswoman Connie Chan. But many who visit Glen Canyon’s untamed trails say they want the freedom to let their pets run free – and risk the consequences.

“I think it’s ridiculous for well-behaved dogs to get ticketed,” says Dan Balsam, a Glen Park resident who was handed a $118 citation in June for letting his terrier, Cosette, off leash. Cosette was so ill she couldn’t run. “Yes, it’s a shame that a dog got killed by a coyote. But everyone has been off-leash in that park. It seems like an overreaction.” He’s fighting the ticket.

In 2007, two coyotes in Golden Gate Park were “dispatched” — that’s police-speak for killed — by U.S. Department of Agriculture officers after the canids allegedly attacked a pair of leashed dogs.

Since then, ACC has gotten wise to the ways of coyotes, says Lt. Le Ellis Brown. “Now, that’s not how we handle wildlife. Dispatching a coyote is a last resort.”

Coyotes are naturally curious and protective of their dens, particularly during the April-to-August pupping season. Each time a coyote report comes in, Brown investigates whether the coyote’s behavior is “acceptable.” Following or chasing an off-leash dog near a den? Acceptable. Approaching an on-leash dog on the sidewalk? Not acceptable.

Tales of dog-coyote meet-ups are numerous. Jason Spain was walking his basenjis in Glen Canyon one foggy evening when he heard his dog, Jungle Jane, running with another dog. “When I turned around, I saw she was engaging with a coyote,” he says. “It wasn’t threatening, wasn’t growling or lunging. She was playing with it. I called her off, we leashed and left.”

Like many Glen Canyon regulars, Spain prefers to take his dogs off leash so they can sniff, wander, and get more exercise. He also likes the coyotes. “When I walk into that park, I understand I’m taking a risk. And I’m okay with that,” he says.

ACC, on the other hand, isn’t okay with that — particularly after a recent video emerged, showing a dog owner in Glen Canyon letting an off-leash rottweiler chase and taunt the coyotes. “We felt citing dog owners was in their best interest,” Brown says. “You guys are putting your dogs, yourselves, and the coyotes in harm’s way.”

This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 1, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Posted in animals, San Francisco

Wounds from tiger attack linger

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 18, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been almost one year since the Christmas Day tiger mauling that killed a San Jose teenager, and while the event inspired safety improvements in zoos nationwide, the San Francisco Zoo has yet to recover from the attack.

The event, and the riveting details later revealed, drew worldwide attention. A 250-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana escaped her enclosure Christmas Day 2008, prowled zoo grounds, and ultimately killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and injured two friends.

For months afterward, the story played out in the media as rumors circulated that the young men had provoked the tiger, and investigations showed flaws both in Tatiana’s enclosure and zoo employees’ response.

One year later, the scars remain: The zoo will be closed this Christmas to commemorate the attack.

In response to the incident, the zoo spent $1.6 million in bond money to raise walls surrounding the tiger enclosure from 12½ feet to the 16 feet 4 inches recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The financial hit was followed by declining ticket sales, leaving the zoo with a nearly $2 million budget shortfall.

“We have a lot of work to do — it’s a serious financial challenge,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner. “This incident happened at a time when we saw visitorship on the rise and there was momentum for another bond.”

The incident also served as a cautionary tale for other zoos.

It prompted Oakland to spend $30,000 to boost fence heights — formerly 13 feet in some spots — around its own big-cat enclosures, according to Oakland Zoo Executive Director Joel Parrot, who called the incident a “shockwave” that went through the profession.

Zoos across the country made similar upgrades, according to Zoos and Aquariums Association spokesman Steve Feldman.

At Pennsylvania’s Erie Zoo, improvements to the tiger enclosure were already under way, but the San Francisco incident prompted it to add a few extra inches to new fences, according to President Scott Mitchell.

San Diego Zoo’s big-cat fences already met the Zoos and Aquariums Association standard, but the park added up to 1 foot in some places just to be on the safe side, said spokeswoman Christine Simmons.

Inspiring those changes “feels like a double-edged sword,” said Bob Jenkins, the San Francisco Zoo’s vice president of government and external affairs.

The zoo is expected to deliver a follow-up response by the end of 2008 to the Zoos and Aquariums Association’s investigation into the tiger attack, he said, adding that there will also likely be another inspection in early 2009.

“We hope it makes the industry much stronger, but we wish it could have been done in a different way,” Jenkins said.

The zoo’s fiscal quagmire has also resulted in a hiring freeze that left several top positions — including directors of operations, development, animal care and human resources — vacant, according to Carl Friedman, The City’s director of Animal Care and Control.

Friedman was asked by the mayor last summer to work with the zoo, after the institution’s executive director resigned. Friedman is scheduled to retire at the end of January, however. Additionally, Interim Director Tanya Peterson recently announced she plans to stay in the interim role “indefinitely,” and doesn’t intend to take the job permanently.

Zoo officials say they’ve been working closely with Newsom on new initiatives to attract more visitors, though details were not divulged.

For now, the zoo remains cautious about acquiring new animals, said Peterson. However, it’s banking on the idea that several new births last spring could draw patrons back, spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said.

The zoo will also unveil a new rhinoceros enclosure in early 2009 — directly across from the refurbished big-cat exhibit.

Patron cited for scaling wall into rhino enclosure
Even a bevy of improvements embarked upon at the zoo following last December’s tiger attack couldn’t stop a patron from scaling the outer wall of the rhino enclosure earlier this month, officials said.

A male patron climbed the outer fence of the rhino exhibit Dec. 8.

Zoo patrons reported the break-in to zoo authorities before the man managed to breach the inner enclosure, according to Bob Jenkins, vice president of government and external affairs at the zoo.

“He was either trying to pet the rhino or have his picture taken with the rhino,” Jenkins said.

Although the patron and two female friends vanished before zoo security arrived, staff members detained them elsewhere in the park, and the man was cited for disturbing animals, a misdemeanor, according to officers at San Francisco’s Taraval police station, which serves the zoo.

After Carlos Sousa Jr. was killed by an escaped tiger last winter, the zoo posted signs throughout the park asking patrons to report anything they see that looks suspicious or dangerous, and that’s exactly what happened Dec. 8, according to Carl Friedman, director of The City’s Animal Care and Control.

It’s unlikely the zoo will make any safety-related changes to the rhino exhibit following the incident, according to Jenkins.

“If somebody wants to get over the fence, they will,” he said. “The only way to avoid it is to have no visitors at the zoo.”

Legal fight for zoo, city just beginning
As the first anniversary of a deadly Christmas Day tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo draws near, the legal fight is just beginning.

Carlos and Marilza Sousa, parents of victim Carlos Sousa Jr., expect to file their formal lawsuit against the zoo and The City by Dec. 27, attorney Michael Cardoza confirmed this month. The Sousas filed a wrongful-death claim in May that the City Attorney’s Office rejected in June.

The family will file for unspecified damages in the death of their son. They are weighing whether to request a memorial be erected in honor of their son, similar to the memorial to Tatiana, the massive Siberian tiger who killed him, Cardoza said.

The zoo would seriously consider installing a memorial to Sousa if asked, according to Interim Director Tanya Peterson.

Meanwhile, brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal filed a formal lawsuit in federal court in November against the zoo and The City.

The suit, filed by attorney Mark Geragos, claims the Dhaliwals “suffered and will continue to suffer from the attack, sustaining physical and emotional injuries.” They “are permanently scarred by this attack” and they will “continue to incur medical expenses and loss of earnings.” The lawsuit demands liability for their injuries.

Initial hearings in the case are scheduled for February.

As the anniversary of their son’s death approaches, the Sousa family’s pain remains fresh, according to Cardoza.

“With the season upon us, they’re reliving it now,” Cardoza said. “I had one of them on the phone crying, saying, ‘This is what Christmas is going to be like for the rest of my life.’”

Lawsuit filed by handler still in mediation
A lawsuit against the San Francisco Zoo from the handler who was attacked in 2006 while feeding the Siberian tiger that later killed a teenager last Christmas Day could head to trial Jan. 20.

Mediations between handler Lori Komejan, her attorneys and representatives of the zoo have been ongoing this fall, according to John Smith, one of Komejan’s attorneys. Smith would not disclose the nature of those discussions, but said a trial date is scheduled next month in San Francisco Superior Court.

Komejan was attacked during a public feeding of the zoo’s tigers Dec. 22, 2006. She had just finished giving tiger Tatiana her meal when a piece of meat fell into a drain trough outside the enclosure, according to court documents filed in October 2007.

As Komejan reached to fetch the meat, Tatiana reached under the bars of her cage and grabbed Komejan’s right arm, then her left arm, pulling both through the bars, according to court documents.

Komejan remains an employee of the zoo, although she has been off duty on workers’ compensation since the incident, according to spokeswoman Lora LaMarca.

An investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that the lion house, where lions and tigers are fed, contained a defective cage in which big cats could reach under and through the bars, according to court documents. The attack and investigation prompted changes in the lion house.

Public feedings of the big cats were canceled for several months after Komejan’s attack, but resumed in summer 2007, according to LaMarca. They were abandoned once more after Tatiana fatally mauled Carlos Sousa Jr. last Christmas Day.

Officials are still weighing whether to bring them back, LaMarca said.

Timeline of a tragedy
Events leading up to and following last Christmas Day’s fatal tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo.

Dec. 22, 2006: Zoo’s Siberian tiger, Tatiana, mauls handler Lori Komejan, severely injuring both her forearms.
Dec. 25, 2007: Tatiana escapes enclosure and attacks Carlos Sousa Jr., 17, and brothers Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, then 19 and 23, killing Sousa and injuring the others. Police shoot and kill the tiger.
Dec. 28, 2007: Zoo officials admit tiger enclosure’s walls are shorter than the national standard.
Jan. 3: Zoo reopens to public and unveils memorial to Tatiana. Big-cat enclosure remains closed. Female polar bear nearly escapes her enclosure.
Jan. 8: Dhaliwal brothers file a legal claim against the zoo and The City. The same day, San Leandro police arrest Paul Dhaliwal for allegedly shoplifting at a Target store in San Leandro.
March 18: The Association of Zoos and Aquariums releases a report finding that the zoo was understaffed and unprepared for the Christmas Day attack.
May 14: Carlos Sousa Jr.’s parents, Carlos and Marilza, file a wrongful-death claim against the zoo and The City.
July 17: Hearing on legislation introduced by Supervisor Chris Daly to turn the zoo into an animal rescue center.
Sept. 16: Board of Supervisors vetoes Daly’s legislation.
Nov. 12: Dhaliwals file a lawsuit in federal court against the zoo and The City, accusing city officials of negligence in the attack and of violating their civil rights during the investigation.
Dec. 25: Zoo will close to commemorate tiger attack.
Dec. 27: Deadline for Sousa family to file lawsuit.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 18, 2008 at 4:44 AM

New swan soon to rule the roost at Palace of Fine Arts

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
November 9, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — A new male swan at the Palace of Fine Arts may be getting picked on right now by the three female swans he lives with, but caretakers expect him to be ruling the roost within a short amount of time.

The Palace of Fine Arts’ male swan, named Wednesday, mysteriously vanished on Christmas Day last year, and police have not yet solved the swan-napping — they never developed any solid leads, nor did they determine whether the thief was human or animal, according to San Francisco Police spokeswoman Sgt. Lyn Tomioka.

Hagerty called the SFPD on Dec. 25 when she went to the lake for the swans’ afternoon feeding and found Wednesday gone, the female swans agitated and a pile of downy white feathers left behind.

“Their wings were clipped, so flying away was not a possibility,” said Tomioka. “Police inspected the scene, but we were unable to determine if the swan was stolen.” No suspects were found.

There are an unknown number of coyotes living in the Presidio that have occasionally been spotted in and around the Palace of Fine Arts, according to Deb Campbell, a spokeswoman for Animal Care and Control.

Hagerty maintains that a human took the swan, because an attack by a coyote or dog would have left plenty of evidence behind.
“I’ve been on the wrong end of a swan. When they get hurt, they bleed like you wouldn’t believe,” Hagerty said.

Wednesday’s disappearance left the lake’s three female swans — 18-year-old Friday and her 12-year-old daughter Blanche and 3-year-old daughter Monday — without a guardian, according to swan caretaker Gayle Hagerty.

Hagerty and fellow caretaker Judy Wilkes pooled their money and bought a new 1-year-old male swan in October, naming him Maybeck, after Palace of Fine Arts architect Bernard Maybeck.

“He’s one of the most magnificent swans I have ever seen,” Hagerty said. “At first he was shy. He fainted when we first put him in the lake. But he’ll be king of the land in another six months.”

For now, Maybeck is taking a pecking from the ladies, who chase him around the lake mercilessly. But as the yearling grows, he’ll take over as head of the roost, and within two years he’ll be able to fertilize eggs and rejuvenate the flock, Hagerty said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 9, 2008 at 11:18 PM

Who’s afraid of the big bad cat?

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
October 30, 2008

Nancy Mangini still vividly remembers the first time she saw a mountain lion in Woodside, while delivering a prescription from her husband’s pharmacy.

“I parked in the driveway, and it just came loping down next to the car,” Mangini said.

The second time — about four years ago — she was walking at dusk in Edgewood Park and looked out across the valleys, only to find she wasn’t alone.

“I could see a very large feline walking along the ridge, and I thought, ‘This is probably not a good place for me to be,’” Mangini said.

In both instances, the sight was “rather thrilling — it reminds you that you are indeed in the natural world.”

Whether they’re thrilled, frightened or just curious, 13 separate mountain lions have reportedly been sighted since late August by residents of San Mateo County. While only one of those sightings — a cougar hit and injured Oct. 14 by a sport utility vehicle on Highway 92 — has been confirmed by officials, experts say there’s no doubt that residents are more aware of big cats than ever.

Most of the reports have come from places where open-space parks and hillside residences meet: Woodside, Portola Valley and San Bruno Mountain. Opinions vary regarding whether sightings have increased, as well as the reasons why residents feel they’re seeing more mountain lions.

“We’re not tracking it, but anecdotally, we think the reports are increasing,” said Ken White, director of the Peninsula Humane Society.

That may be due in part to increased awareness and media attention, according to Kyle Orr, spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game. The mountain lion population in California is holding steady at 4,000 to 6,000, and the population of their primary prey — deer — has also been stagnant, Orr said.

And although development in rural parts of the county — particularly along Skyline Boulevard — has been static for years, near San Bruno Mountain there are new housing projects planned, boosting the opportunity for residents and lions to spy one another, according to Lisa Grote, director of planning for the county.

Aside from living closer to the animals, some residents are making changes that are bringing the wildlife closer to them.

“Mountain lions were unheard of five years ago,” said Perry Vartanian, treasurer of the Woodside Hills Homes Association. “What’s going on is, we didn’t used to have deer here — there was no vegetation.”

Now, brush is thicker and more residents are putting in gardens, giving the deer plenty to nibble on — and drawing cougars closer to houses.

At the same time, better awareness about health and exercise — coupled with tight budgets that keep residents closer to home — means more Peninsula residents are hiking in local open-space parks, according to Dave Holland, director of the San Mateo County Parks Department.

However, Holland said as locals take to the outdoors and spot the occasional wild big cat, their fears will decrease, not increase.

“More connection with nature will ease that concern, because you’re more familiar and you have more information on how to be prepared for an outdoor environment,” Holland said.

Indeed, there is little sign that locals are feeling threatened by the lions in their neighborhoods.

Although California residents can obtain permits — called depradation permits — in order to kill a mountain lion they believe is threatening public safety, their pets or livestock, only four such permits have been issued in the county since 1972, and no felines have been killed as a result, Orr said.

Eric Sakuma, a deputy with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office who responds to many reported sightings, said he sees signs that locals are becoming less afraid of their predatory neighbors.

“Two years ago, the calls were, ‘Get the lion, I want it out of here,’” Sakuma said. “I think residents now are more concerned about documenting that it’s in the neighborhood so alerts can go out.”

Don’t tell a mountain lion tale unless you see a tail, expert says

The first thing mountain lion experts want the public to know is that if you think you’ve seen a big cat, chances are you haven’t.

There are plenty of the big cats throughout the state, including in San Mateo County — somewhere between 4,000 to 6,000, according to state Department of Fish and Game estimates. However, most of the animals reported as mountain lions are actually other animals.

“Most commonly they’re dogs, or sometimes even a large house cat,” said Doug Updike, statewide mountain lion coordinator for Fish and Game. “When it’s dark or dim, people don’t get a real good look.”

Cases of mistaken identity are common enough that when San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy Eric Sakuma responds to a mountain lion sighting, the first thing he asks the reporting party is whether the animal had a tail.

“And they’ll say, ‘No, it didn’t have a tail,’” Sakuma said, confirming that many times locals are seeing bobcats, not cougars. “It’s one and the same to a lot of people.”

Adult mountain lions are a single, tawny color from head to tail, except for a black-tipped tail and a black “mustache” on their face, according to Updike. Females weigh 75 to 90 pounds, while males weigh 120 to 160 pounds. Their tails are half the length of their bodies.

Their favorite times to prowl are dawn, dusk and night, particularly by the light of the moon, according to Updike. They roam through large areas up to 200 square miles, mostly so their prey forget they’re around.

And, because they’re well camouflaged and shy, it’s not easy to spot them.

“Lions see us all the time,” Updike said. “And, typically, we look right at them and never see them.”

That’s why the second thing big-cat experts want locals to know is: They don’t like eating humans.

Since 1890, only 14 Californians have been attacked by mountain lions, according to Fish and Game spokesman Kyle Orr. Six were fatal.

“Mountain lions tend to attack from behind, so it’s a good thing we’re not on their menu,” Updike said. “If we were tasty, hundreds of people would be killed each weekend. They don’t like us, and that’s a good thing.”

Cougar sightings in San Mateo County

Since late August, 13 separate reports have been made by Peninsula residents who said they spotted a big cat.

Aug. 21: Resident reports seeing two mountain lions entering the west side of Edgewood Park in Redwood City.

Aug. 31: Portola Valley resident reports seeing a mountain lion in the 200 block of West Floresta Way.

Sept. 9: Woodside resident reports seeing a mountain lion at 5 Vintage Court.

Sept. 15: Woodside resident reports seeing a mountain lion in the 400 block of Old La Honda Road.

Sept. 30: Resident reports seeing two mountain lions walking along a trail on San Bruno Mountain; jogger reports seeing a mountain lion crouching in the brush on San Bruno Mountain.

Oct. 3: Resident reports seeing a mountain lion on the Bear Gulch Trail in Wunderlich Park in Woodside.

Oct. 8: San Mateo resident reports seeing a mountain lion in the 200 block of West Poplar Avenue; San Mateo resident reports seeing a mountain lion near Occidental Avenue and Clark Drive.

Oct. 14: Driver reports seeing a mountain lion limping away after being hit by a vehicle on Highway 92 west of Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir.

Oct. 18: A Portola Valley resident reports finding a devoured deer carcass in the front yard of a home on Naranja Way, and suspects a mountain lion left it there.

Tips for living among big cats

Coexisting with California’s biggest cats is quite simple. If you’re living in mountain lion country:

Don’t feed deer. It’s illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.
Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants they like
to eat.
Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.
Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats and other vulnerable animals.
Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active: dawn, dusk and at night.
Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.
Do not hike, bike or jog alone.
Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active: dawn, dusk and at night.
Do not approach a mountain lion.
If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects; pick up small children.
If attacked, fight back.
If a mountain lion attacks a person, call 911
Source: California Department of Fish and Game

Mountain lions in California: Facts and figures

4,000 to 6,000
Mountain lion population statewide

Possible sightings in San Mateo County since late August

Confirmed sighting

Mountain lion attacks in California since 1890

Fatal attacks

Sources: California Department of Fish and Game, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

October 30, 2008 at 11:28 PM

Zoo’s seniors may bunk up

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 11, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Orkney, San Francisco Zoo’s gray seal, is pushing 40 and is nearly blind due to age-related cataracts in both eyes. He spends his days in a habitat of his own, where he has learned to navigate — as well as eat and receive medical checkups — by feel.

As the zoo struggles to close a budget gap partially prompted by the fatal tiger mauling on Christmas Day last year, it is also struggling with a cost-saving measure that could be harmful for its animals: consolidating the creatures into one another’s habitat.

Moving some of the zoo’s oldest and wildest animals — such as Orkney — could even prove deadly if they are moved out of their solo apartments, interim Director Tanya Peterson said.

“Changing his environment when he can’t see would be extremely stressful to him,” said Jacqueline Jencek, the zoo’s head veterinarian. “There’s also the potential of him being beaten up by younger, healthy animals.”

Zoo animals have died after being moved before. Puddles, an elder hippo, died May 2007 after he and his mate, Cuddles, were moved into a bigger habitat. While 46-year-old Cuddles adapted easily to the new environment, which includes gentler ramps and a bigger pool to ease her arthritic limbs, the stress was too much for Puddles, Jencek said.

And Padang, a 19-year-old Sumatran tiger recovering from a leg injury she sustained in her youth, gets her own home with ramps — and is kept apart from the zoo’s brand-new, rambunctious tiger cubs for her safety, Jencek said.

Caring for elderly or special-needs animals is becoming more and more common at zoos across the nation as animals live longer and longer lives in captivity, said Steve Feldman, spokesman for the 218-member Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Although San Francisco Zoo officials were not able to quantify how much more it costs to keep such animals separate — or to pay their doctor’s bills — there’s no doubt those animals can cost more, Feldman said.

However, the sight of empty enclosures and exhibits may have another cost — patron disappointment. Washington state resident Don Jones brought his son, Jeff, to the zoo Thursday and came away disappointed.

“Half the exhibits were closed,” he said grimly. “My son had always wanted to come, and we had heard it was quite good.”

Mauling put facility in funding fix
The San Francisco Zoo is grappling with a budget shortfall between $700,000 and $2 million — and must come up with some solutions by Aug. 21.

Completion of the zoo’s financial outlook has already been pushed back at least once while leaders study the situation “top to bottom,” interim Director Tanya Peterson said.

The zoo’s top ongoing expense is labor, Peterson said, but costs associated with improving zoo safety following a Siberian tiger’s escape — and the fatal mauling of a 17-year-old patron on Christmas Day — put the zoo in a budget quagmire this year, spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said.

Loss estimates have ranged from $700,000 to $2 million in the last month, officials said.

Although Peterson said that the zoo was considering closing some animal habitats to save money, officials were mum about actual cost-saving plans.

The zoo’s 2008-09 budget is scheduled to go before the Recreation and Park Commission on Aug. 21. — Beth Winegarner

Who’s who at the zoo
San Francisco Zoo hosts a number of “senior citizen” animals who are living much longer than they would in the wild. They require a little extra care, but many have developed quirky personalities in their golden years that make them patron favorites.

Name: Orkney
Species: Gray seal
Age: Unknown, at least 39
Typical life span in the wild: Up to 25 years
Condition: Blind, due to age-related cataracts.
Trivia: Orkney has learned to navigate his enclosure by feel, and knows where to go for eyedrops, weight checks and getting his nails trimmed.

Name: Cuddles
Species: Hippopotamus
Age: 46
Typical life span in the wild: Up to 25 years
Condition: Healthy, but suffering from arthritis.
Trivia: Cuddles has a very “go-with-the-flow” personality and loves resting on the sandbar by her pool.

Name: Ulu
Species: Polar bear
Age: 28
Typical life span in wild: Up to 20-25 years
Condition: Healthy, but has different needs due to being raised in the wild.
Trivia: Ulu loves digging deep holes, and has favorite stuffed animals she likes to dunk in the pool when she swims.

Name: Talullah
Species: Chimpanzee
Age: Unknown, at least 49
Typical life span in the wild: 30 to 40 years
Condition: Early-stage kidney disease requiring extra fluid intake, as well as arthritis.
Trivia: Instead of dreading her treatment, Talullah comes running for “drink sessions,” in which her handler gives her water infused with different fruit flavors.

Name: Pearl
Species: Mandrill
Age: 23
Typical life span in the wild: 20 years
Condition: Very nearsighted, due to a brain lesion.
Trivia: Because of her eyesight, Pearl gets a solitary breakfast and dinner — with as much time as she needs — so her fellow mandrills don’t steal her food.

Source: San Francisco Zoo

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 11, 2008 at 4:27 AM

Traffic-bound sea lion could be ill

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 12, 2007

A wayward juvenile sea lion who likely clambered out of a slough near San Carlos Airport and wandered into one of the city’s busiest intersections Tuesday may have been suffering from toxic-algae poisoning, an increasingly common problem among Bay Area marine life.

The pup made its way to Old County Road near Brittan Avenue before a keen-eyed local called the San Carlos Police Department at approximately 8:15 a.m. Police closed the intersection for 15 minutes while officers corralled the confused 100-pound critter in a kennel normally used for the department’s police dog, Cmdr. Rich Cinfio said.

“It was confused and frightened,” said Cinfio, who helped capture the sea lion. “It was feeling frisky, let’s put it that way — but with some coaxing, we got it into the kennel.”

Scientists at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center will give the sea lion a complete checkup sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours, said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the center. One of the things they’ll look for is whether the animal may be suffering from domoic acid poisoning, which can happen when sea animals ingest toxic red algae.

It’s too soon to tell, Oswald said, whether the sea lion in San Carlos was suffering from algae poisoning.

The Marine Mammal Center has been studying the effects of domoic acid in marine animals, particularly sea lions, since 1998, Oswald said. Red algae, when ingested by many mammals, acts as a neurotoxin that can cause acute or chronic health problems, including confusion, disorientation and even seizures.

“Sometimes you’ll see a sea lion on the beach, just shaking all over,” Oswald said. He encouraged locals to contact the center anytime they see a marine animal in distress.

The Marine Mammal Center rescues 50 to 60 sea lions per year in the Bay Area that turn out to be sick from domoic acid, Oswald said.

Despite the increases, Tuesday’s sea lion encounter was San Carlos’ first, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

“After the salmon that swam up Pulgas Creek a few years ago, and this, we might be able to start our own Marine World,” Moura said.

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 12, 2007 at 10:17 PM

Posted in animals, San Carlos

Lawsuit: UCSF mistreated test animals

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
July 30, 2007

UC San Francisco is performing medical experiments on dogs and monkeys that violate the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

The complaint, filed by a group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, alleges that UCSF’s cardiology tests on a group of 100 dogs and ongoing studies of eye movement and brain function in rhesus monkeys violate animal-testing laws, according to Lawrence Hansen, a member of the committee and a professor of neurosciences and pathology at UC San Diego.

“It’s far too much pain and suffering without furthering our understanding of human disease,” Hansen said.

UCSF paid $92,500 in fines to the United States Department of Agriculture in 2005 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act dating back to the late 1990s, according to the lawsuit.

UCSF defended its animal-testing practices in a statement released Monday.

“UCSF takes seriously the responsibility of working with animals and is committed to maintaining the highest standard of humane treatment in animal care and use,” Clifford Roberts, interim associate vice chancellor for research at UCSF, said in a written statement.

A recent USDA audit of the dog and monkey clinical and research records, performed the week of July 23, found no regulatory violations, Roberts added.

Specifically, the committee’s lawsuit charges that the canine cardiology tests violate the law because they duplicate prior atrial fibrillation testing, Hansen said.

In addition, the group claims that the rhesus testing — which involves installing electrodes in the monkeys’ brains and holding the animals still while studying their eye movements — is “highly invasive,” according to Hansen.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 30, 2007 at 10:28 PM

Pet store banned from selling animals

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
December 19, 2006

A pet store owner accused of housing animals in filthy, unhealthy conditions has been ordered not to sell any pets through December 2008.

A San Mateo County Superior Court decision Thursday forbids Mohammed Olfat, the owner of Laurelwood Pet Store in San Mateo, from selling any animals at his Hillsdale Road store until Dec. 13, 2008. In August, 289 animals were seized from the store after they werefound living in soiled cages, eating from food dishes containing feces and living in fish tanks without enough water, according to Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA officials.

This isn’t Olfat’s first offense — he served 14 days in jail after pleading guilty in March to charges that he mistreated and sold sick cats and dogs. He also spent five days in jail in 2004 on similar charges.

“There are people who need to go to jail and there are people who just need not to be around this number of living animals,” PHS director Ken White said. “This is a situation where you need to make sure no more animals get caught up in it.”

Olfat, reached at the pet store Monday, said the ban won’t hurt his business, which is primarily based on pet supply sales and an educational newsletter. He argued that taking the issue to court was unnecessary.

“If they had come to us in a nice way and told us, ‘Don’t sell that,’ it would have been fine,” Olfat said. “We didn’t really have to go to court — they just attacked us.”

Ongoing problems at the pet store have not stirred controversy among neighbors, according to Georgette Sarles, president of the Laurelwood Homeowners Association, who was relieved to hear the court’s decision.

“If they’re doing such a bad job of taking care of the animals, the best thing for the situation is that they’re prohibited from selling them,” Sarles said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 19, 2006 at 10:28 PM

Posted in animals, Crime, San Mateo

Groups seize 200 animals from pet store

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 29, 2006

The doors remained open at Laurelwood Pets on Tuesday, but there weren’t any pets, after the Peninsula Humane Society and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized 200 animals that were allegedly being kept in unclean and unhealthy conditions.

The animals seized Friday, mostly fish, birds, rodents and rabbits, were allegedly found living in soiled cages, eating from food dishes containing feces and living in fish tanks without enough water, according to PHS/SPCA lead investigator Debi DeNardi. This isn’t the first charge for co-owner Mohammed Olfat, who served 14 days in jail after pleading guilty in March to charges that he mistreated and sold sick cats and dogs.

Olfat, who would not comment on the situation Tuesday, could now face up to 90 days in jail for the latest charges, DeNardi said. His wife, Farzaneh Bique, recently assumed ownership of the pet store and was also cited during Friday’s raid.

Pet owners began calling the PHS/SPCA about Laurelwood Pets in 2003.

“They’d buy a cat and [soon after], it’s dead. He was selling these sick dogs and cats, and people were spending thousands of dollars treating them,” DeNardi said. Olfat was placed on probation and told he could only sell small animals, not dogs or cats.

Employees at neighboring businesses in the Laurelwood Shopping Center, such as Town & Country Cleaners, Jamba Juice and a liquor store, said they were not aware of any wrongdoing at the pet store, but never shopped there. Georgette Sarles, president of the Laurelwood Homeowners Association, said she avoids the store.

“He’s kind of abusive, even to customers,” Sarles said. “He’s not too well-liked.”

The PHS/SPCA, which also provides animal control services for the county under contract, has performed a number of recent animal seizures, including 50 goats at a Portola Valley farm on Saturday, 11 farm animals from Triple Springs Ranch in Half Moon Bay on July 27 and 80 rabbits from a South San Francisco home in June, according to DeNardi.

Those raids are part of a recent return to investigations of animal cruelty, according to PHS/SPCA Director Ken White.

“Before I got here [my predecessor] ordered the organization to move away from cruelty investigations because there was a financial conflict with the county,” White said. “That seemed so amazingly wrong.”

The program is now funded entirely through donations.

Statewide, there is increased interest in the well-being of animals housed in pet stores. This week, the state Senate considered a bill that would create stricter rules about how rodents and other small creatures should be cared for by store employees.

Laurelwood Pets’ animals are doing well, and should be available for adoption in 14 days, according to DeNardi. A court hearing for Olfat and Bique will be set through the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 29, 2006 at 10:26 PM