June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

Bugsy and Cookie went bad. Bugsy got his, and now Cookie’s facing the music. Sure, she runs around, and, yeah, she can be a bitch, but Cookie is just a good girl gone astray. The question is, will the judge buy her story?

He will. “Cookie,” says William Herndon, presiding in San Francisco’s once-a-week Dog Court, “got a bum rap because she was with Bugsy.” The 2-year-old pit bull, who escaped from her owner and went on the lam for a week, can go home. As for Bugsy, he’s no longer with us. He bit a neighbor. Bad dog, Bugsy! Then he bit an animal behaviorist. Bad move, Bugsy! Herndon had him destroyed.

Still, Herndon, a police sergeant, tries to see the good in every dog. “There aren’t really any bad dogs,” he says, “just bad owners.” And it’s the owners who wind up in his court in City Hall. This is where the dregs of doggiedom—biters, fighters, incorrigible barkers, serial poopers—are dealt with.

Sometimes, says Herndon, 46, the owners act like animals. To keep a leash on emotions, Herndon and bailiff John Denny work in uniform. “There was a case where a big dog attacked a little dog,” he says, “and the people were fighting in the courtroom. It was like Jerry Springer.” Or Jerry springer spaniel, anyway.

While Herndon can impose the doggie death penalty, he has other sentencing options; he may have a pooch muzzled or neutered or ask the owner and the complainant to negotiate their differences. “I really strive to do everything I can for all parties,” he says, “and that includes the dog.”

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