The Ten-Month Fight to Stop Aurora From Killing This Dog

Olga Jeleznova cuddling with Bandit before the biting incident.
Olga Jeleznova cuddling with Bandit before the biting incident. Facebook
An Aurora family has spent most of 2017 trying to prevent city representatives from killing Bandit, a two-year-old dog deemed a hazard after what Animal Law Center attorney Jennifer Edwards describes as a minor bite suffered by a Federal Express deliveryman. But while a lawsuit filed by the owners and accessible below has put their pet's euthanization on hold, the matter remains in limbo, and Edwards says the effect on Bandit has been devastating.

"Bandit never gets to leave his concrete cell," she notes. "He's morbidly obese; he gets no exercise. I think the only thing that gets him through this is that his family visits every day. I can't understand why the city is being so cruel."

Aurora isn't commenting on the suit, but (update) the city did share a statement about the case in general on its Facebook page last March; it's included in its entirety at the bottom of this post. As the item notes, Aurora has determined that Bandit is a type of pit bull, a breed that's been banned in the community since 2006; a 2014 ballot measure to repeal the ban fell well short of passage. However, Edwards isn't convinced that this conclusion, based on results of a so-called Wisdom Panel analysis, is accurate. "I don't think it's a reliable test," she allows. "And when the family adopted Bandit, it was as a boxer mix. Why the breed determination wasn't challenged is beyond me."

As this comment implies, the Animal Law Center isn't the first firm employed on Bandit's behalf by his owners, Suren Tatuylan and Olga Jeleznova, who are originally from Russia. Edwards stresses that "another attorney represented them in the criminal proceeding" over the bite, "and unfortunately, they pleaded guilty to the charges and didn't really have a clear understanding of what that meant, since English is their second language. They thought by doing it, they were saving Bandit's life. But that wasn't the case."

Here's how Edward describes the biting incident: "A FedEx driver came to the home, and when the teenage daughter opened the door to receive the package, Bandit got out the door and jumped up on the driver. That was his habit, how he greeted people — and it's not a very good habit, as the family understands now. I think the FedEx driver was probably very startled and reacted by shrinking back, and Bandit reacted with a kind of quick bite, a brief snap. It was more like, 'I scared you, you scared me.'"

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A Bandit portrait.
The driver visited a local hospital for treatment, Edwards acknowledges, "but it wasn't a very severe bite, and it wasn't a vicious attack. This isn't a bad dog. It was just a bad circumstance."

Since January 4, Bandit has been in an Aurora animal shelter, at a cost to Tatuylan and Jeleznova of $15 per day. In March, Tatuylan pleaded guilty to harboring a dangerous dog only to realize too late that this confession essentially signed Bandit's death warrant. So he contacted the Animal Law Center, which used a series of legal maneuvers to forestall the sentence from being finalized while offering up alternative approaches.

One idea involved moving Bandit out of Aurora — the family is building a new house in Parker — and arranging for proper training of both the dog and his family. "If Bandit can be retrained and rehabilitated and behaviorially modified, and if the family can be educated, I think that should be the goal, rather than having to euthanize their beloved family pet. He's really their short, hairy child."

Another, more elaborate option involves the Pit Sisters, a pro-pit bull organization based in Jacksonville, Florida, that actually became a partial owner of Bandit in August. The group has successfully rehabilitated highly aggressive animals previously used in dog fighting, Edwards points out, "and if the family doesn't get Bandit back, the Pit Sisters have agreed to take full ownership and train him, rehabilitate him and keep him there. They have several different programs, including a prisoner program, that would give Bandit a second chance at a wonderful life."

She adds that the family had even arranged for Pit Sisters boardmember Jim Crosby, an internationally recognized trainer and animal behaviorist, to "go to the airport and get Bandit and work with him. He's flown all over the world and rehabilitated some of the most aggressive dogs the world has ever known. And the family's willing to pay for it. We had every expense and liability aspect of this covered."

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Suren Tatulyan and Bandit strike a yuletide pose.
Apparently, though, none of these ideas appealed to officials in Aurora — so Edwards filed the aforementioned lawsuit in federal court. The document is characterized as "a civil rights action for declaratory and injunctive relief, damages and attorney's fees...stemming from the Defendant's violations of Plaintiff's rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

According to Edwards, Aurora officials haven't explicitly said they're taking a hard line because of what they see as Bandit's lineage, but she's not so sure. "I don't think this would be happening if Bandit didn't look like what Aurora thinks is a pit bull," she says. "If Bandit was a golden retriever, I think he would be home right now. So I think this is a breed issue, and maybe even a mistaken breed issue."

She adds: "We don't think killing Bandit is going to solve anything. We really need to shift the paradigm toward rehabilitating the dog and educating the owners — because these kinds of things are usually human issues, but we take them out on the dog, and I don't think that's fair. Aurora has the chance to really lead the way on this, and if they do, it could set an incredible example for other jurisdictions, a way to show that there are other approaches we can take. It would be very impressive for them to do that."

In the meantime, Edwards vows to "file whatever we need to file and be as creative as we can to encourage Aurora to be reasonable. Because we can all agree that it's not in the best interest of this dog for him to remain in a concrete cell in a shelter."

Click to read Suren Tatulyan and Pit Sisters v. City of Aurora. Here's the aforementioned Aurora Facebook post about the case, originally shared on March 29:

City of Aurora Facebook post:

For those of you interested in the dog Bandit, we wanted to provide you with an update. The city of Aurora and the owners of the dog Bandit met today in Aurora Municipal Court. The defendant/owners plead guilty to the charges of running at a large, owning or keeping an aggressive animal, and owning a restricted breed. Aurora Animal Services was dispatched to an active dog bite involving a restricted breed on January 4, 2017. Aurora medical responders and Aurora Police Department were on scene providing a FedEx employee with medical attention for multiple puncture wounds sustained to his face during a dog attack. Because the dog caused injury to a human and was reported and identified as a restricted breed, the dog was impounded at the Aurora Animal Shelter. The impoundment included the mandatory ten day bite quarantine observation period. During this time, staff noticed increased aggression in Bandit and continued to kennel him in the quarantine area for the safety of staff, volunteers and our residents. During Bandit’s stay, owners requested the dog be tested using our DNA process for confirmation of his breed. Aurora Animal Services received the DNA results on February 7, 2017 confirming Bandit is a 100% American Staffordshire Terrier, which is one of the three restricted breeds in Aurora. Bandit’s owner pleaded guilty today in Aurora Municipal Court to keeping an aggressive or dangerous animal; animal running at large; and possession of a restricted breed. Previously, on Jan. 13, 2017, a disposition hearing had been held, where after hearing evidence, the Judge made a determination that this dog does pose a danger to the community and cannot be safely maintained and controlled within the community. Therefore, the Court ordered the dog surrendered to the Aurora Animal Care Division for disposition. The Defendant plead guilty today to the three charges in the pending case, but also plans to appeal the municipal court’s Jan. 13, 2017 order to surrender the dog. Pursuant to city ordinance, the Defendant has posted an appeal bond and therefore the judge’s surrender order will be stayed until there is a decision from the appellate court. The city is concerned about the aggressive nature of this dog and concerned for the overall safety of the community so the decision was made to keep Bandit in the care of the Aurora Animal Shelter. We appreciate the overall concern people have shown for Bandit’s well-being while in our care at the Aurora Animal Shelter. We strive to provide all of our animals with the most humane and positive experience we can. Bandit will continue to be provided the enrichment all of our animals receive while waiting disposition. Aurora Animal Services had requested that Bandit remain in our care to ensure the safety of our community along with the safety of neighboring communities while the pending appeal is reviewed by the 18th Judicial Appellate.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts