Update on Spork Case

The owners of a Dachshund who bit a CO veterinary technician have been granted a 6 month deferred prosecution by a judge. So long as Spork doesn’t bite anyone during the next 6 months, the charges will be dropped.

One of the many things I’ve learned from Cesar Millan would potentially be applicable in Spork’s case: Hand little dogs off backwards. That is, when Person A is holding a little dog and wants to hand the dog over to Person B, Person A first turns the dog around so that his face is pointing towards Person A and away from Person B. This helps prevent the dog from being afraid when Person B invades his personal space and it removes any easy target (such as a face, in the Spork case), should the dog bite. Of course nothing beats a muzzle for preventing bites but it’s always good to have additional tools in the toolbox.

Press Releases in the Spork Case

Snippet from a press release (pdf) from Donald Dodge, owner of Jasper Animal Hospital – the vet clinic Spork is scared of:

The bite was serious. Our technician required immediate medical attention. [...] When an animal bites a person who seeks medical care, it is normal procedure for the hospital to alert animal control officers. This is what happened here.
[...]
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.

He goes on to say that just because the tech is pressing charges doesn’t mean the clinic wants the owners prosecuted or the dog killed. Maybe they thought “pressing charges” meant that everyone has tea and a biscuit and goes home early, I don’t know.


Response from the lawyer for Spork’s owners:

Jasper Animal Hospital is responsible for the hiring, training and supervision of its employees. Further they are responsible for the development and implementation of hospital procedures to protect their clients, their animal patients, and their employees.

While the Walkers are perplexed by the City of Lafayette’s aggressive pursuit of the charges against them, they are also distressed by the veterinary technician’s desire to further this case. While they have been very upset and concerned about the injuries suffered by the tech, the Walkers are surprised that a trained veterinary professional would put an animal in her care in this position. In the police reports, it is clear other clinic employees were aware that Spork was distressed at the time of his visit. He was shaking and defecating in his owner’s arms. Given the visible state of Spork’s anguish, the Walkers are shocked that this veterinary technician, given her years of experience, would put her face anywhere close to Spork’s face. What is even more curious to the Walkers is why a trained tech would aggressively urge criminal charges in the matter when veterinary technicians are trained to handle animals, and there is an assumed risk that comes with the job. Colorado State Statute §18-9-204.5(6)(b) specifically exempts veterinary health care workers for this very reason.

Of all the points made in my previous post and the comments, I am most curious about this last bit. The bite happened in August 2009. Since the law specifically exempts veterinary staff from filing charges related to dog bites, why is this case still being pursued? To my mind, the fact that it was ever even opened was a mistake. The city should have told the tech from day one, “You are exempt and can not press charges”. Forcing the owners to spend all this time worrying and all their savings on lawyers is totally ridiculous. And the Vet is supporting these shenanigans? Even knowing there is no legal standing for these charges whatsoever?

Hey Lafayette pet owners: Jasper Animal Hospital doesn’t know how to handle scared pets and if you go there, they may give your name and address to the city and file charges against you. Maybe there’s another vet clinic in town? Or, if Lafayette is determined to invoke “home rule” to avoid compliance with this sensible state law, I’d say it would be well worth it to go to a vet clinic outside the city.

***

There is also an e-mail posted online that is purported to be from the city of Lafayette regarding the case. The city thinks we should all be grateful they don’t have breed bans and didn’t seize Spork immediately.

CO Vet’s Office FAIL

The city of Lafayette, CO has declared a 10 year old dog named “Spork” to be vicious and filed charges against the owners. Based upon your knowledge of these type of cases, have a go at these multiple guess questions:

What specifically did this “vicious dog” do?

  • Kill livestock?
  • Bite a neighborhood kid?
  • Attack someone’s pet?

How about the owners – what are they accused of doing?

  • Allowing their dog to roam loose?
  • Leaving the dog on a chain for his entire life?
  • Failing to supervise their dog around a toddler?

If you guessed “None of the Above” (oops, I forgot to include that choice), you are correct. The owners of the vicious Spork (yeah I’m loving that name) are accused of taking their Miniature Dachshund to the Vet for routine care. Like many dogs, Spork is scared at the Vet’s office. Very scared. He shakes. He loses control of his bowels. Vets see dogs like this regularly and usually know, or should know, that with these type of dogs, the owner can never hold the dog during examination. These dogs are not in a balanced state of mind during their Vet visits. And when an owner holds a dog, the owner becomes a physical extension of the dog. If that dog is already in an unbalanced state, the potential for a bite is very high.

So when the owner was told at the Vet visit to hold her dog and the technician put her face up to Spork’s, he bit the technician’s chin. State law in CO exempts veterinary workers from filing charges regarding dog bites. Somehow, the city found out about the incident (I think we can safely guess the owners did not contact the city about it) and served the owners with a citation. The owners hired a lawyer and are going to trial in April in an effort to save their dog:

The Walkers’ attorney says the charges should be dismissed. “It’ll put a scare, a fear into people with animals, that they can’t bring their dogs or cats to health care facilities in the city of Lafayette for fear of criminal charges and fear their family friend will be euthanized,” says Jennifer Edwards of the Animal Law Center.

The Walkers say they’ll do anything to make sure their dog isn’t euthanized. “Not everyone would spend their life savings protecting a 10-year-old dog, but we feel we need to.”

I am hesitant to make generalizations about biting dogs but I’ll go out on a limb here: Little dogs bite. Unlike big dogs, they can not physically resist something that makes them feel uncomfortable. They scream when they’re panicked and they bite as a last resort. Those are their defenses in a world where everyone is bigger than they are and they can be picked up, held down, or inadvertently knocked over and trampled at any moment. Anyone who works in a Vet’s office should know that a little dog presents a bite risk while at the office. Even more so for a dog who’s scared. And still more for one who is overly scared and being held in the arms of his owner as you stick your face into his/their personal space.

From the information I’ve read about this incident, it seems like the Vet’s office mishandled the situation which resulted in a staff member being bitten. Instead of using it as a learning experience, they (I’m guessing) reported the bite to the city, causing the owners terrible emotional and financial hardship. Ultimately, the dog may be locked up or killed.

At the Vets’ offices I worked in (many moons ago), we had a box full of muzzles of all sizes and we placed a muzzle on any dog who was “questionable”. Has Spork’s veterinary office heard of these things? When I take my Chihuahua mix to the Vet’s, I bring along her muzzle from home. She’s never bitten anyone and I hope to keep it that way. I’d rather be safe than sorry – especially if sorry means the city might take my dog. Although I doubt my Vet would ever mishandle a situation so badly and then try to get authorities to kill my dog over their mistakes.

Spork does not deserve to be punished. Neither do his owners. I feel for them.

The idea that Spork is vicious is something Spork’s owners have a hard time accepting. “Every night I tuck him into bed. If he doesn’t have a blanket on him, he starts crying, I have to get up and make sure he’s covered,” Kelly Walker, Spork’s owner says.

I hope that the city will come to their senses and drop this whole thing. I bet there are probably actual irresponsible owners in Lafayette who deserve citations. And I hope that Spork gets to spend many more nights in his bed, covered up by his blankie.

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