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It’s hard to be a pit bull in San Francisco. The neighbors want you muzzled, the mayor wants you regulated and state legislators want you castrated. And it’s all because of that uncouth tendency to attack children. But these same problems are making things a bit simpler for plaintiffs lawyers taking aim at the stocky and standoffish pets. Take Matthew Davis. As the partner at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly, Wecht & Schoenberger tries to settle a pit bull suit before it goes to trial this fall, the negative publicity can’t make his opponent too enthusiastic for a trial. In that case, Davis represents the victim of a dog’s incredibly ill-advised decision to attack a horse and a cop, all at once. Nettie, a now-deceased pit bull formerly “rescued” by her former owner (the owner had Nettie killed last year because no landlord would allow the dog), went into attack mode when she was let off the leash in Golden Gate Park in late 2003. “She immediately makes a beeline toward the horse, and it’s a pretty crazy scene,” said Davis. The horse reared up and bucked Officer David Herrera onto the ground. According to the complaint in Herrera v. Klafter, the cop suffered back injuries and emotional distress that kept him out of work for six months. “It’s definitely a six-figure case,” Davis said. He and Anastasia Klafter’s attorney, Thomas Murray, are in mediation, hoping to resolve the dispute before trial. Murray did not return calls by press time. While negative pit bull publicity can fuel such cases, Kenneth Phillips — a Los Angeles plaintiff lawyer who specializes in dog bites — says San Francisco’s media coverage of pit bulls distorts the real problem with dog attacks. “What is the real problem? The real problem is the dog bite epidemic, and pit bulls are not responsible for that,” he said. “All dogs are, if they’re a bad dog.” But, he added, since pit bull bites are likely to cause serious injury or death, they get much more attention than, say, Maltese maulings. Phillips — who advocates a comprehensive set of regulations for dog ownership, including mandatory insurance — nonetheless shies away from pit bulls, which he says are notoriously unpredictable. “When I see one of those dogs in the street, I go the other way,” he said.

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