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Pit bull saved after petition drive has previous bite record, police say

Yesterday, we told you the story of Dre, a pit bull reunited with his family in Brighton months after he was threatened with euthanizing following an incident in which he reportedly showed aggression but didn't bite anyone; more than 68,000 people signed a petition demanding that he be saved. We've now heard from the Brighton Police Department, whose spokesman rebuffs criticism aimed at police in the case and says Dre has a record of a previous bite.

We've included the entire original post, featuring an interview with the Animal Law Center's Jennifer Edwards and photos of Dre, owner Mary O'Brien and the rest of the family. But here's a brief recap.

Dre, on the right, with a couple of loved ones.
Dre, on the right, with a couple of loved ones.

In July, Dre and another dog -- a Doberman-Rottweiler mix -- slipped away from a Brighton home. While loose, they're said to have barked at and shown aggressive behavior toward a number of people before being corralled by local authorities. Afterward, the Doberman-Rottweiler mix was released but Dre remained in custody, allegedly because his actions were deemed potentially violent. According to O'Brien, Brighton representatives pressed for Dre to be euthanized, but after a court hearing, plus negotiations and positive analyses of the dog by two behaviorists, she pleaded guilty to one of the five original counts against her. As part of the agreement, Dre was allowed to go home, with the court scheduled to evaluate his progress with a trainer over the next two or three months.

Along the way, a Dre supporter among the thousands who signed the petition said a Brighton police officer with whom she communicated claimed the dog was dead or soon would be. Edwards told us an inquiry into this assertion was ordered -- something confirmed by John Bradley, the Brighton police's public-information officer. "There was an investigation conducted into a single allegation that someone had made a comment about the dog being dead to one of the people who called," he says, "but that was determined to be unfounded." The department considers the matter to be resolved.

Edwards also suggested that even though Brighton doesn't have breed-specific legislation targeting pit bulls, a bias against the animals might have been a factor in Dre being held while the other dog was released, as well as the call for euthanizing. But Bradley rejects these statements, noting that the community's three animal control officers "argued that the city council not approve breed-specific legislation when it was proposed several years ago."

Bradley sees this stance as evidence that the officers aren't prejudiced against the breed -- and observing their fondness for animals of every description while watching them at work further convinces him that claims of an anti-pit attitude are unfounded. Likewise, he rejects allegations that the city didn't properly address Dre's medical needs (he has dermatitis that requires a special diet, regular baths and more) when he was in the city shelter. As soon as the owner brought the food Dre required in sealed containers, as required by the shelter's guidelines, the dog was given it, he says.

As for Dre's past run-ins with the law, Edwards mentioned an incident in which he and another dog may have chewed up a Crocs sandal after a man in search of an errant volleyball leaped into the yard containing them. But Bradley shares word of another report -- one that doesn't fit the description above and involved a "previous bite," he says.

Continue reading for more about the reported Dre biting incident.  

Dre and Mary O'Brien.
Dre and Mary O'Brien.

"The event took place on July 5, 2009 at about 3 in the afternoon," Bradley continues. "We received a report that the dog had bitten a man on the 2200 block of Brantner Place in Brighton," during a period when Dre had another owner. "The report we had was a gentleman who was going to a party at the house next door was attacked by the dog and suffered scratches and punctures to his right foot that required medical treatment."

No charges were filed and Dre was later released to his owner, Bradley says, "because he was up to date on his vaccinations, it was a first-bite report and the owner offered to pay the medical bills of the victim, and the victim accepted."

He sees this resolution as more evidence that Brighton doesn't view pit bulls as the enemy, because authorities didn't press for euthanizing Dre back then. Was this past incident a reason why Brighton officials pressed for the ultimate penalty this time around? Bradley says he's not sure, but "it would certainly be normal for previous history to come into play."

Whatever the case, Bradley objects to the portrayal of Brighton officials as being eager to kill Dre. He says the community has a very low euthanizing rate compared to other cities its size -- a point of pride for the department.

O'Brien's attorneys "made a lot of comments attributing a lot of motivations to Brighton," he maintains, "but there was never any interest in anything other than protecting the public's safety -- and we're perfectly satisfied with the results. We presented information to the court and the court made its determination, which is what the system is set up to do.

"A lot of people have tried to attribute emotional intentions to us, saying that we wanted the dog dead. People can say anything they want about us, but that doesn't make it true."

Continue for more our original post, featuring more photos of Dre and his family.  

Dre at rest.
Dre at rest.

Original post, 10:45 a.m. September 12: More than 68,000 people signed an online petition in support of Dre, a pit bull held for months in Brighton after a July incident in which he reportedly displayed aggressive behavior but didn't bite anyone. After weeks of negotiations, as well as allegations of dubious police conduct, Dre has finally returned home, with the attorney representing his owners suggesting that anti-pit bull bias may have played a role in the prolonged drama.

"Even if a jurisdiction doesn't have breed-specific legislation, there's often breed-specific discrimination," says Jennifer Edwards of the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center.

Here's how owner Mary O'Brien describes the incident that led to the incarceration of Dre, who's around five years old, on the aforementioned petition, which features the headline, "Save Dre, a Pit Bull in Brighton, CO who has NEVER hurt anyone!"

On July 26th, two dogs got out of their home because a child got a hold of the garage door remote and accidentally pressed the button. A family member was watching the kids and didn't even realize what had happened and that the dogs were loose. The dogs, Dre and MachoMotto, were running amuck thru the neighborhood. Dre was barking at people and apparently some lady jumped into her car...for whatever that is worth. Several people called animal control and someone called 911 reporting vicious dogs running loose. Supposedly it took 5 officers to obtain Dre, thou NOT ONE person was injured; bitten or scratched.

Imagine having 5 strangers chasing you.

The police/animal control released MachoMotto (not a Pit Bull), but have quarantined Dre (Pit Bull, not even sure if he's full or mix) labeling him "vicious."

The different treatment of the two dogs fits in with Edwards' theory about pit-bull prejudice.

"MachoMotto is a Doberman and Rottweiler mix, and those breeds were discriminated against in the '70s and '80s," she says. "If it had been back then, maybe that mix would have been confiscated and Dre would have been given back. But quite the opposite was true here. They gave the Dobie back and kept the pit bull" despite the fact that neither animal bit anyone. Indeed, Edwards says, "The only allegation of physical contact was from a woman who said he might have gotten some slobber on her."

If that was the case, why did Brighton authorities want to keep Dre behind bars? "This was before I got involved," Edwards says, "but my client got a call around noon saying, 'You can pick up your dogs in a little while.' But then, at about 12:30, they called back and said, 'We're going to be keeping the pit bull. It's acting vicious. It's a vicious dog.'"

According to Edwards, who says she's been around Dre on a number of occasions and never saw signs of dangerous behavior, the O'Brien family originally "went into court pro se" to win Dre's release. "But then they realized this was a lot more serious than they thought. The city was threatening to euthanize Dre immediately -- so it turned into a life-and-death situation for a member of the family."

Continue to read more about Dre's release and see photos of him reunited with his family.  

Here's how O'Brien described the situation in her petition narrative:

Dre has a new court date of August 10th at 8:30 a.m. Both a Police Officer and an Animal Control Officer are going to court to plea with the judge to have "the dog" destroyed. To clarify, his name is Dre and he is a family member who has never hurt anyone.

Please sign this petition and show Brighton, CO that falsely labeling a dog who has hurt no one will NOT be accepted!

Plenty of people did as O'Brien asked, with signatories from far and wide -- not just the U.S., but Australia, Italy, Argentina and more. In addition, Edwards says, a Dre supporter from New York e-mailed the Brighton Police Department for more information about the case -- and that woman claims to have subsequently received calls from officers telling her that either the dog was already dead or he soon would be. Information about these exchanges was shared with the Brighton police chief, Edwards continues, and it's her understanding that an internal affairs investigation was launched as a result.

As support built for Dre, Edwards says the dog's health was deteriorating. "He has pretty serious dermatitis -- he's on a special diet, has special treats and needs medicated baths and his ears cleaned once a week -- and he had not received any of this for weeks" while being kept in Brighton's animal shelter. "Even though Mary had brought him special food, they were just giving him regular food, and he was starting to have horrible allergic reactions."

As a result, she says, "we filed an emergency motion, and we were able to move Dre out of the shelter and into a foster-care arrangement with a group called Canine Candor," a dog rescue organization. "They took the care, custody and control of Dre, and moved him to a private home -- and it really offered an opportunity to see how sweet Dre was."

Continue to read more about Dre's release and see a photo of him with his family.   That's not the portrait painted by prosecutors, who cited an incident involving Dre and his previous owners. Apparently, a guy in search of an errant volleyball jumped into a yard occupied by Dre and another dog and they may or may not have chased him out and gnawed on a Crocs sandal -- at least that's what Edwards thinks was pictured in a faxed photo sent to her by rival attorneys. But, she says, "animal control investigated it, and they didn't cite Dre for anything, maybe because of an affirmative defense -- because someone was trespassing in the yard. And if that happened, a lot of dogs might have reacted like that."

Dre and family.
Dre and family.

As Dre's health improved under Canine Candor's care, a behaviorist hired by the Animal Law Center did an analysis and concluded that the dog wasn't vicious. Then, at the urging of a judge, the City of Brighton assigned a behaviorist of its own to conduct tests. "They did all kinds of evaluations," notes Edwards, who was able to observe through a window. "They opened up in umbrella in front of Dre. They shot off a gun. And Dre would react, but he had a very quick recovery time, which showed him to be a very stable, well-mannered dog -- not dangerous or vicious."

The Brighton behaviorist's report included recommendations about improving security at the O'Brien home, to make certain Dre wouldn't escape again -- and Edwards says they've been made. Meanwhile, O'Brien reached a plea agreement. She was originally charged with five counts -- three involving a vicious dog, and two concerning a dog at large -- and wound up pleading guilty to one of the former. She'll likely pay a modest fine in the $250 range, with the court ordering follow-up evaluations over the next two or three months.

In the meantime, O'Brien has engaged a trainer who'll be charged with helping Dre receive what's called a Canine Good Citizenship certification. And she makes her joy over the resolution of the situation clear in a new post to the petition. It reads: "DRE IS HOME!! BRIGHTON RELEASED DRE TO HIS FAMILY TODAY. HE IS HOME WHERE HE BELONGS. DRE WINS. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE!!!!"

More from our News archive: "Pit bull mix bites don't convince Larimer Humane Society to target breeds."


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