Lafayette councilman Kerry Bensman is frustrated by the publicity his town has received in relation to the story of Spork, a ten-year-old dachshund who received a vicious-dog citation after he bit a veterinary technician last August.
He believes most media outlets have been underplaying the seriousness of the injuries sustained by the woman in question.
"The top of her lip and the bottom of her lip were torn off," he says, adding, "At her request, they tried to find the tissue that had been torn off, so that it could be reapplied by surgeons, but it couldn't be found. It's believed that the dog may have swallowed the live flesh."
Bensman shared these concerns with Channel 31, but says that most of his comments were left on "the cutting room floor." Meanwhile, numerous Lafayette staffers, as well as workers at the Japser Animal Hospital, where the biting incident took place, have been inundated with often nasty complaints from people around the country who've heard about the case.
"What they've done on their Facebook page is created an e-mail list of forty to fifty city employees -- people who didn't have anything to do with this. And people are sending e-mails to that list," Bensman says. "I've gotten between 75 and 100 from all over the country -- Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky -- and a smaller number from places like Fort Collins and Longmont.
"And Jasper Animal Hospital, which has been my veterinarian for about eight years -- I'm on my third Husky with them -- got a death-threat letter yesterday that they reported to the Lafayette Police Department. They've gotten at least two death threats they've told me about."
Bensman says he doesn't begrudge Tim and Kelly Walker, Spork's owners, for spending many thousands of dollars defending their dog, although he believes the price is so high because of a lawyer change and various court maneuvers done by their choice.
Moreover, he thinks the Walkers are exaggerating the chances that Spork could be euthanized after a late April hearing. In numerous interviews, including one with yours truly, Tim cited a 2007 Boulder Daily Camera stating that 26 of 33 dogs deemed vicious had eventually been put to death. However, Bensman says he's checked around, and the folks with whom he's spoken only one remember one euthanization in the past couple of years.
Just as important to Bensman is the fact that "Spork hasn't been declared a vicious dog, because the hearing hasn't been held. And if the judge thought it was a vicious dog, he could have impounded it -- but the dog's at home. He hasn't been impounded. And there are a whole range of possible penalties. There can be a fine, or the owners might have to confine their dog to the house or only be out on a leash -- or owners with a certain type of dog might have to build a dog run on their property with fences at a certain height, so the dogs can't jump out."
That last one wouldn't apply to Spork.
As for the distinction between Colorado's statewide animal ordinance, which exempts veterinary personnel from being able to file vicious dog charges, and Lafayette's, which allows them to do so, Bensman declines to weigh in, citing the ongoing litigation. However, he points out a comment by Dr. Donald Dodge, founder of the Japser Animal Hospital, posted on the Boulder Daily Camera website report about Spork. In it, Dodge says that he'll argue for this particular loophole to be closed after the current controversy has been resolved.
In the meantime, Bensman urges people not to rush to judgment based on media reports that, in his opinion, didn't tell the whole story. The only exception he mentions is the version presented by Channel 4, which featured the photo of the injured vet tech seen above.
His choice for a more appropriate headline for Spork stories? "'Vet Tech Maimed by Spork the Dachshund,'" he says.
Look below to see a press release about Spork put out by the City of Lafayette, a release issued by Dr. Dodge, and Dodge's comment on the Daily Camera website.
City of Lafayette press release:
Lafayette, Colorado -- February 24, 2010
The City of Lafayette sent out the following response to those who wrote emails about Spork the Dog:
The City of Lafayette is in receipt of your inquiry regarding a dachshund named Spork. Please permit me to share some observations.
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.
The Spork incident happened in August of 2009. The veterinary technician then made a decision to file a report with the Police Department. The bite was serious requiring medical attention and care by a plastic surgeon.
The case goes before our Municipal Judge in April. We are confident that he will review all the facts of the case based upon the evidence presented in court, decide whether a violation occurred, and take appropriate action only if there was a violation.
It is significant to note that the ordinance governing vicious animals does allow immediate impoundment in the most serious cases. In this case, Spork was not immediately impounded. The public should understand that once charges are filed with the court, any interference with the judicial process by City Council or Staff could jeopardize the due process rights of all interested parties. Thanks for reading this.
City of Lafayette
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Jasper Animal Hospital statement By: Dr. Donald Dodge, Veterinarian and Founder, Jasper Animal Hospital
There have been some media reports about a tragic incident that took place at the Jasper Animal Hospital last August. As the chief veterinarian at Jasper, I wanted to clarify some of the facts and to tell you how we feel about these events.
Jasper is a place, and I am a person, devoted to the welfare of animals and their guardians. We have operated on that principle for eight years, and I have nothing but concern for the animal and the technician involved in this situation.
We had treated the dog, a dachshund named Spork, in the past, and he had never before exhibited any aggressive behavior.
On August 14, 2009, Spork came into our hospital for a dental procedure. On that morning Spork, though visibly nervous (as he had been before in the clinic), did not show any signs of aggression (as had also previously been the case). However, when our veterinary technician reached over to take Spork from his guardian, Spork suddenly bit the technician in the face.
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.
To those who have been supportive to the Jasper Animal Hospital I would like to say that we have heard you and sincerely appreciate your concern.
Dr. Donald Dodge comment on Daily Camera website:
February 25, 2010
To the Editor, Daily Camera:
I would like to respond to today's article about Spork with two simple statements:
1) I am not in favor of Spork being euthanized or kenneled for life. I never have been.
2) I am in favor of changes to the Lafayette vicious dog law that takes situations such as this one into account.
If you actually take time to look at the police report and understand the Lafayette law, you will see that everybody involved, Spork, his guardians, and the Jasper Animal Hospital, find themselves more victims of the law and Lafayette's determination to invoke "Home Rule" than anything else. I will, in conjunction with other Lafayette veterinarians and animal professionals, be petitioning the Lafayette City Government for a change in this law.
Donald D. Dodge, DVM
Jasper Animal Hospital