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River Views

Does it seem like more and more of the homeless are accompanied by a dog or dogs? The City of San Francisco has just initiated a program that pairs the homeless with abandoned puppies. The City pays the homeless person to take care of problem puppies until they are ready for adoption, but the homeless must give up panhandling in exchange. Skeptics might say it’s a system with built-in problems. What becomes of the bond established between the homeless individual and the young dog? Who is going to monitor the admonition against panhandling? What could be a more sympathetic sight for a panhandler than a puppy alongside?

Mendocino County appears to possess an abundance of dog and homeless pairings. Some food banks help with food for pets of the homeless. Reportedly, the Foursquare Church in Fort Bragg offers dog-sitting services while the canine’s homeless person eats at the Hospitality House, which does not allow pets at dinner.

You don’t have to look overly close at a nearly toothless individual on a street corner to guess that many of the homeless are woefully behind when it comes to medical care. How many among us have examined the physical condition of a homeless person’s furry companion? This is the story of someone who stopped to take that look then did something about it. It is also the story of a man and his dog.

A bicycle stood erect yet rider-less, its left handlebar tagged as an evidentiary exhibit, the right handlebar nudged against the panel separating spectators from the proceedings in the Ten Mile Courthouse in Fort Bragg on Thursday, September 27th. Less than a handful of citizens remained in the audience to witness the second day of a trial in which a homeless man was accused of violating California Penal Code 597(a), which doles out punishments for cruelty to animals.

The alleged victim in the case: a six-year-old dog named Frankie.

The alleged perpetrator: a Caucasian man about 6’-2’’, weight 165-175 pounds; his age hard to accurately estimate, perhaps middle aged, perhaps somewhat younger. He has spent quite a bit of time in a homeless state; clearly missing several teeth, his neck appeared perpetually dusty, though that might be due to years of living outdoors.

Under Penal Code 597(a) Frankie’s alleged abuser could be subject to a state prison sentence and/or a fine up to $20,000. More often than not the fine is substantially less and defendants pleading out might be released immediately with credit for time already served in the county jail. This homeless man was clearly having none of that. In the lobby before the second day’s proceedings at least one voice of the public could be heard saying, “Why didn’t he just plead ‘no contest’ and not waste so much time and money?”

The Thursday morning proceedings did not get underway for the jury until after 10am because the assistant district attorney and the public defender spent most of an hour arguing before the judge over the prosecution’s desire to alter the charge to Code 597(b), which broadens the definition of what actions constitute cruelty to animals. Since the defendant had already given his direct testimony the judge disallowed the request.

With the jury returned to the courtroom, the Assistant DA cross-examined the defendant, re-establishing the basic facts of a case that reached court only five and a half weeks after the incident itself.

Next week in River Views: What appears to be a throwaway case provides more than one surprise.

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