City defends ‘dangerous’ designation of golden retriever

Bar the golden retriever

By Emily Mibach
Daily Post Staff Writer

Attorneys representing the city of Menlo Park are aggressively fighting back against a lawsuit by a family who says their golden retriever should not be deemed “dangerous.” The family filed a lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court to overturn the designation for Bar, who is 4 years old.

They want the court to pause any of the penalties assessed on owners of a “dangerous animal” – fines, installing higher fences or putting up signs saying a dangerous dog lives in their home.

The family contends it would cost them over $20,000 to build a higher fence and install a kennel for Bar.

The city says that the lawsuit filed by Bar’s owners, Tobias Kunze and Liliana Kunze Briseno, “smacks of both entitlement and willful blindness to the danger that the hearing officer determined that Bar poses to the public.”

The incident in question occurred on Aug. 10, while Bar’s owners were on vacation and he was staying with a petsitter. On that day, the petsitter took Bar and her own dog, Sundae, out for a walk. As the petsitter and the two dogs walked down Central Avenue, they encountered a husky being walked by a woman pushing a stroller. The petsitter decided to cross the street as the dogs tried to run toward each other, and the husky allegedly provoked the incident, the family’s petition says.

However, the city says that Bar “broke free from his dog walker, dashed across a public street and sunk his teeth into the neck of a leashed Siberian Husky.”

“Bar then bit the Siberian Husky around the neck with such force that – despite the husky’s thick and protective fur coat – Bar punctured the (dog’s) skin in two places,” the city’s filing says.

Costs unsubstantiated, city says

The city goes on to say the Kunze Brisenos haven’t proven it would actually cost them $20,000 to build a higher fence or kennel at their home, or that this would be a significant financial burden to them.

The city’s attorneys also critique the evidence submitted by Bar’s family – calling a video submitted on the dog’s behalf “cherry-picked.”

Liliana Kunze Briseno says in a court filing that the family got the $20,000 estimate by looking up the needed materials on the Home Depot website, getting quotes from contractors and handymen and by discussing the matter with their gardener. She goes on to point out that $20,000 is over 60% of the median income in California. However, she does not state what her family’s income is.

Kunze Briseno also filed 28 “character witness statements” by neighbors who attest to Bar’s sweet disposition.

City criticizes the timing of the lawsuit

The city’s filing also critiques the Kunze Brisenos for waiting to file their lawsuit until Feb. 6, the last day they could have filed. In the 90 days between Bar’s hearing and the lawsuit being filed, the family did not change its fence as required in the order, post a sign at their home saying the dog is dangerous, or place a “dangerous animal” tag on Bar’s collar.

Menlo Park’s attorneys asked for a judge to rule that the Kunze Brisenos needed to follow those rules while appealing the hearing officer’s decision.

In a response to Menlo Park’s filing, the Kunze Briseno’s attorney says the city’s filing “unnecessarily disparages the character of the (family) in its fallacious and misleading.”

Kunze Brisenos also say in a filing that once they told the county’s Department of Health that it was appealing the dangerous dog designation, they were granted a pause of the penalties.

Settlement opportunity

The filing goes on to say that the Kunze Brisenos tried to act in good faith by contacting City Attorney Nira Doherty and the city council to reach a settlement agreement to avoid having to file the suit. But no one responded.