There is reason to celebrate this week if you’re a 10-year-old Dachshund named Spork. The 17-pound pet has been in the center of a legal battle concerning him, a veterinary technician and a nasty bite. At stake was Spork possibly spending the rest of his life in a kennel or even euthanasia. On March 12, 2010, Spork and his family, Tim and Kelly Walker, were awarded a “deferment of prosecution,” the Animal Law Center announced.
Under the agreement, if Spork doesn’t inflict injury on anyone else for six months, the criminal charges against him will be dropped. But even that stipulation might get dropped if the city of Lafayette, Colo., amends its current vicious animal law to exclude health care professionals, as the state law does. The city vs. state laws have played a major factor in the battle over Spork.
It started when Kelly Walker took Spork to the vet for some routine dental surgery in August 2009. At the time, she could scarcely have realized that the visit would result in an expensive and emotional legal battle.
One thing is not in dispute: Spork bit a veterinary technician.
The debate that has followed the bite in question, however, is whether or not Spork is a “vicious” dog.
Kelly Walker maintains that Spork was frightened during his visit to Jasper Animal Hospital in Lafayette,and that he displayed all the visible signs of such: shaking and losing control of his bowels while she held him.
When veterinary technician Allyson Stone attempted to take Spork from Walker’s arms, he bit the technician on the mouth, causing her to lose small pieces of her lips. The bite required immediate medical attention at a local hospital. According to CBS4Denver.com, a police report states that Stone “looked on the ground to see if pieces of her lips were visible on the floor.”
“I was holding him and he bit her on the chin,” Kelly Walker told KDVR News, a Fox station in Denver, also noting that Stone got too close to Spork’s face with a pair of scissors. She did not actually see Spork bite the technician.
“I knew about it when she turned around with her back towards me and I said ‘What’s the matter?’ and she said, ‘He bit me,’” Walker said. The animal hospital informed Walker that Animal Control would be contacted. “I was crying. The dog was shaking. It was a horrible experience.”
Colorado state law says dog bites are usually considered one of the hazards of veterinary work and therefore exempts technicians from pressing civil or criminal charges in such cases. But this case took a unique turn in that Stone claims there was no indication that Spork would bite and that the attack was unprovoked, thus making him subject to Lafayette’s city laws against “vicious” animals. Within city limits, she argued, this law would take precedence over state laws.
The Walkers dispute this claim and say Spork did indeed exhibit all the signs of a frightened animal that might defend itself when threatened. Nevertheless, Stone pressed charges against Spork and the Walkers, who were issued a ticket by the city — a ticket they have currently spent $6,000 defending.
“Not many people would spend their life savings to protect a 10-year-old Dachshund, but we felt we couldn’t let him down,” Tim Walker said. “We took on the responsibility to protect him 10 years ago. We’re responsible, and we love him.”
In a statement, Jasper Animal Hospital Founder and Chief Veterinarian Donald Dodge wrote that he supports Stone’s decision to pursue charges, though he lamented the situation as a “tragedy.”
The bite was serious. Our technician required immediate medical attention. She was treated at Boulder Community Hospital Urgent Care and by a plastic surgeon. When an animal bites a person who seeks medical care, it is normal procedure for the hospital to alert animal control officers. That is what happened here. Boulder Community Hospital contacted Lafayette Animal Control, and an animal control officer responded to the call.
The veterinary technician then made an individual decision to pursue charges. I supported that decision, because when an animal causes serious injury to a person, there should be a public record of that fact in case there are future incidents involving that animal. This did not mean that Jasper wished to see the animal put at risk or the guardians prosecuted.
Jasper Animal Hospital has not advocated for, or participated in any way in subsequent decisions by the City of Lafayette to prosecute Spork’s guardians. We remain very worried about everyone concerned — the dog, his guardians, and the injured technician. We consider this incident a tragedy, and we sincerely wish the best for everyone concerned, Spork in particular.
“As we see it, Spork is on death row,” said Tim Walker.
Gary Klaphake, a city administrator for Lafayette, said in a statement, “Several years back in rewriting the City code, the City decided to not go the way of breed specific regulations as it related to vicious animals. Rather the City put in place conditions for the code enforcement and the courts to manage vicious animals. This non-breed specific effort was applauded by other cities and animal advocate groups. In no way does it require ‘euthanization’ other than in extreme circumstances as determined by the Judge.”
Jennifer Edwards, a lawyer retained by the Walkers, is hoping to get the case dismissed under the state law. “Under Colorado law, a veterinary technician cannot civilly or criminally pursue a dog-bite case. The law is in place because there’s an assumption of risk when you work with animals that something like this can happen.”
Edwards, also the founder of Wheat Ridge, Colo.-based Animal Law Center, didn’t get the case dropped, but the deferment is clearly seen as a positive step.
“This agreement is a win for Spork and the Walkers,” she said. “It spares the Walker family and the City of Lafayette any more expense or time. It’s a deferred prosecution, which is rarely — if ever — extended to defendants. In addition, it’s clear from Judge Roger Buchholz’s decision yesterday that the City’s hands are tied in this matter due to home rule. In his comments, he validated our position that Lafayette’s ordinance should be amended in order to prevent any other pet owner from facing a plight similar to the Walkers. Now the City of Lafayette has an opportunity to do just that.”
If Lafayette decides to amend its city law to exclude veterinary care workers from the vicious animal law, as Colorado does, before Spork’s six months are up, then the charges will be dropped all together. Until then, Spork need only behave for the time being.
“We are relieved that Spork is out of danger for the moment,” said Tim Walker in The Animal Law Center’s statment. “While we know that we would have prevailed in court, this case has been incredibly upsetting for our family. We are happy that we will be able to return to a normal life and know that this misguided case against us will be dropped in a determined number of months. We thank all the friends we know and don’t know for their support during this ordeal.”
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