By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
Let your Lab off its leash? Get ready to spend 24 hours in jail. Don't carry your pooch's immunization paperwork in your car? Be prepared to get handcuffed and tossed into the drunk tank with people pissing and puking on themselves.
Coloradans love their dogs, but the City of Denver loves its dog laws even more, say two men who both recently found out how a good day can go to the dogs.
On October 5, Marc Goddard was driving to the hospital to visit a friend who'd just had a baby when he was pulled over for running a stop sign. But instead of getting a ticket, Goddard says, "I was ordered out of my vehicle." When he asked why, the officer yanked him out by his arm, pushed him up against the car and cuffed him.
At that point, the cop told Goddard he was wanted on an outstanding bench warrant for failure to appear in court. The charge: failure to immunize his dog.
More than a year earlier, Goddard's beagle, Jewl, got out of the yard and was picked up by animal control. Goddard, who had just moved to Denver from Washington, D.C., was cited for not having a dog license or up-to-date immunization records. To comply, Goddard says he got the required paperwork and mailed it.
Apparently, the info never reached its destination, though, because the citation turned into a warrant, and that turned into ten hours of incarceration in a holding tank full of "abandoned clothes, discarded food scraps, dried feces and spit on the walls," he says.
Goddard was finally able to post bond. "I understand that the cops gotta do what they've gotta do if there is a bench warrant, but this was way out of proportion," he says.
"The fact that they would take someone and treat them like a criminal for a bloody dog law.... I can laugh now, but I was pretty flabbergasted."
Alain du Chelas's case is worse.
On November 9, he was heading downtown to meet some friends when he was pulled over for making an illegal right turn. Months earlier, du Chelas had been ticketed for letting his Lab mix, Toulon, off of her leash at Commons Park. Du Chelas forgot to pay the ticket and didn't show up in court. In the fall, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
When the cops saw it, du Chelas was fingerprinted, photographed and stuck in a cell; he was told it would take three or four hours to process his case. But he was still there past midnight and finally asked a sheriff's deputy when he'd be allowed to go.
"If you are here now, there is no one you can see," the deputy told him, adding that he'd have to wait until the 8 a.m. court session the next day. Du Chelas was shocked, and the barking noises that another deputy was making didn't help his mood.
That session came and went, and du Chelas was still in jail. Finally, he was loaded into a bus, cuffed and shackled to his fellow inmates for the 1 p.m. session. The judge, he says, was quite surprised that he'd been in jail overnight on a leash-law case.
"I realized I was just pulled into a silly situation, so I wasn't mad," du Chelas says. "I can't imagine how much it cost the city to detain me, but it probably wasn't cheap. And I'm not confident the crime matched the punishment in this case."
Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson says the police have no choice but to arrest someone with a warrant. "It's not for us to determine whether a law is valid. We just have to enforce it," he says.
"It all has to do with the class of the case," adds Denver County court administrator Matt McConville. Certain traffic laws, for instance, are classified as criminal, while others are merely civil. Violate one and you could go to jail; disobey another and you'll merely have your license suspended. And unless lawmakers with the city or the state decide to change it, dog-related violations like the ones referenced above are criminal cases, he says. "The court doesn't make these things up."
Around 2,100 tickets have been issued in Denver so far this year to people who failed to vaccinate their dogs (a $40 ticket). Of those, 132 were arrested.
As for du Chelas, as soon as he was released, "I took Toulon for a walk," he says. "She shouldn't have to pay the price, even if I did."