12/07/2011 05:35 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2012

The Death of a Dog, Bad Art, and Not Great Journalism

As brief context for what follows (I'm assuming here that you know the story, but if not just Google a key word or two), the San Francisco Arts Commission terminated a $750,000 Central Subway art contract with artist Tom Otterness (my opinion, the right move) but decided to allow his $700,000 commission for a sculpture at the San Francisco General Hospital to move forward (not so much).

The controversy focuses not only on the horrific fact that Mr. Otterness killed a dog as part of an earlier "art" project, but that he has also only lately gotten around to apologizing for that bizarrely stupid, cruel and senseless act.

There are so many ways this was mishandled, but a piece of the story as yet untold does need to get aired. Rebecca Katz is the director of the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control and, as you should be able to imagine -- the city's senior position focused on animal issues, the same city whose government has ordered up public art from someone who has killed a dog -- this issue was extremely important to her.

Oddly, however, the San Francisco Chronicle article (November 15) covering this story completely misrepresented Ms Katz's position, calling the director an "advocate" for Otterness in an article wrongly titled "Artist who shot dog gets sympathy from animal care leader."

Adding insult to injury, Ms. Katz' letter to the editor sent to the print version of the Chron has gone unpublished. Before this issue fades into a bad memory I thought I would give it the space it deserves.

So, from SF Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz to The San Francisco Chronicle (and now to you):

I was shocked and dismayed by City Insider columnist Stephanie Lee's November 15th characterization of my letter to the Arts Commission regarding artist Tom Otterness as "advocacy" or "sympathy." Previously, I vehemently discouraged the contract award and admonished the decision makers that, as many others have stated, allowing it to proceed would inflict tremendous pain on a community that cares so deeply about animal welfare. I argued for forfeiting the money expended thus far rather than award any more. I raised the same concerns others have -- that passage of time isn't an excuse, that mere words of apology without demonstrable accountability or atonement doesn't engender forgiveness, that there's no excuse or justification for such a vile act. Though it was clear that my opinion would not influence the decision, I was advised that Mr. Otterness wanted to attempt some type of amends. Thus began a discussion about ways to educate the public regarding the importance of animal welfare and the harm that animal cruelty causes to the community overall. This discussion will continue, as I noted in my letter describing a pact, and I hope that stakeholders will join me in seeking something positive from this otherwise deplorable situation.

As the politically incorrect saying goes, I've got no dog in this fight. But I do know Rebecca. I know, in fact, hundreds of people who spend their lives working to make the world better for animals. No, Rebecca Katz and the good people, staff and volunteers, at the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control are not in support of letting three-quarters of a million tax dollars go to some fellow who killed a dog for his art. Ask her, ask them. They've got plenty of ideas about how to spend those dollars in ways which would actually help animals.