After more than four hours of contentious debate at a special meeting, the Los Altos Hills City Council voted unanimously June 11 to allow the Scher family to keep their two dogs.
City officials two months earlier revoked the dangerous dog permits issued to the Shers after a December 2010 hearing determined that their two black Labradors were a danger to the public by roaming off their property off leash, violations of municipal code.
In their presentation to the council at last week’s meeting, Gerald Scher and Susan Stark admitted to violating the terms of their permits.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued a citation to the family late last year after several residents reported last November – through phone calls and photos sent via email – that the dogs ran loose in the neighborhood without leashes.
The Shers argued at last week’s meeting that their dogs were behaving like others in Los Altos Hills.
“It would be inaccurate to say we haven’t transgressed in the past 18 months,” Stark said, “but it is undisputed that these dogs are not dangerous.”
Nine residents spoke against the family’s keeping the dogs. Scher and Stark, supported by two dog behaviorists, rebutted the charges.
Julie Bond, a certified animal behaviorist who evaluated the dogs and testified on behalf of the owners, said, “People could get the wrong impression (of the dogs) and be fearful.”
Bill Bahn, who lives adjacent to the Scher family’s property, was among those expressing concerns about the dogs’ behavior. He said the dogs entered his yard at least eight times in the past year and treated his family members like intruders on their own property.
“Our problem is that we don’t know where the dogs will be, and their behavior has been aggressive toward us,” Bahn said.
Five residents of Creekside Oaks, a gated community near the Shers’ home, also voiced their fear of the dogs.
“I’ve seen the dogs twice and they run like a pack,” Jack Kelly said. “Very fast, very, very strong. We have lots of elderly (people) at Creekside, and someone’s going to get hurt.”
After the council posed questions and heard residents’ testimonies, its focus moved from examining the behavior of the dogs to addressing the behavior of the dog owners.
What she perceived as the dog owners’ irresponsibility angered Lindsay Carpenter, a nearby resident who observed the dogs off leash and without supervision June 2.
“I attended the first meeting, heard them say they would not let their dogs loose, off leash … and here we are today. I don’t believe a thing they say,” Carpenter said. “We would not be here if they had complied.”
Members of the council said they weren’t happy with the time and money spent on resolving the case – nearly $27,000 in legal fees, administrative costs and a dog-behavior evaluation, according to a city report.
“I’m upset that the city spent so much money on a dog issue that should have been resolved over a cup of coffee,” said Councilwoman Ginger Summit.
Under the motion passed by the council, Scher and Stark agreed to confine their dogs within an escape-proof fence at all times, refrain from requesting that the council remove the “dangerous dog” label before the permit is up for renewal and comply indefinitely with all rules of their permits.
The Shers declined to comment on the ruling.