Last August, Lafayette's Kelly Walker brought Spork, her ten-year-old dachshund, to a veterinary hospital to get some oral surgery -- but before the procedure could get underway, the terrified animal bit a vet tech.
Weeks later, animal control officers issued a vicious dog citation in Spork's name -- and if he's found guilty, he can either be kenneled or euthanized.
Kelly and her husband, Tim, aren't about to let that happen.
The Walkers have been fighting the charge for months -- but their campaign really took off last week, when they launched a Save Spork Facebook page. In a week, the site has already attracted 12,000 members who support their battle.
"Not many people would spend their life savings to protect a ten-year-old dachshund," Tim says. "But we felt we couldn't let him down. We took on the responsibility to protect him ten years ago. We're responsible, and we love him."
Here's how Tim tells the tale:
"My wife took Spork in for some dental surgery at Jasper Animal Hospital last August," he says. "He's a ten-year-old, neutered male dachshund, and we'd been there a bunch before. In fact, we went the week before; that's when they told us he needed major oral surgery."
Spork wound up having five teeth and a cyst removed -- what Tim refers to as "basic maintenance for an older dog" -- at a cost of approximately $1,700. But the surgery didn't take place at Jasper because of what happened next.
"I wasn't there, but Kelly said the scene was chaotic," Tim continues. "There were dogs barking and Spork was very frightened, as he had been when he went in the week before. They said he was so scared he was shaking. My wife picked Spork off the scale and cradled him in her arms, and he was shaking so badly that he pooped on her arm.
"Kelly looked down to see the poop on her arm, and right then, something happened between Spork and the vet tech. She stood back and said, 'Son of a bitch,' or something like that. And then she said, 'He bit me.' Kelly saw a little bit of blood on her chin -- and then she left to go to the emergency room. Kelly was left shaking and crying and terrified about what had happened."
Cut to three or four weeks later, when, Tim says, "the Lafayette police, animal control, came over and talked to me and issued me a vicious dog citation from the City of Lafayette."
The shock of the citation only increased after the Walkers did some research "and found out what it meant to be charged as a vicious dog," Tim notes. "It's very serious. They can kennel your dog or euthanize it at the judge's discretion. And we've heard horror stories" about the high percentage of cited dogs that are eventually put to death.
Moreover, the Walkers learned that while Colorado state law doesn't allow veterinary workers to press charges when dogs bite them in the course of their work, Lafayette's municipal ordinance does. That strikes Tim as bizarre.
"A fearful dog or a hurt dog is your number one candidate to bite," he says. "Most bites are out of fear and anxiety, and people who work with animals understand that. You need to be able to take a hurt, sick dog into a vet and feel confident they know how to handle that."
From early on, Tim and Kelly knew they wouldn't simply accept a ruling against Spork -- who had never bitten anyone before -- without doing everything they could to defend him. As Tim puts it, "We felt we shouldn't walk into a vet to pay professionals for a procedure, and then leave as a criminal. We just felt it was wrong."
Unfortunately, negotiations didn't solve the problem.
"We thought we'd have an opportunity to talk turkey with the DA -- that it would be dismissed under state laws," Tim maintains. "But our motion for dismissal under constitutional preemption was denied about two weeks ago. The city declared home rule."
That's when the Walkers decided to go public. They put all the documents they'd obtained to date on the Facebook page along with their version of what took place. And very quickly, word began to spread among groups like Demand Justice For Buddy, founded after a dog by that name was dragged to death on the Colorado National Monument; Steven Clay Romero was subsequently charged in the crime. They also heard about other incidents similar to what they've been going through, including one involving Wiggles, a fifteen-year-old Shih Tzu from Iowa also branded a vicious dog.
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As the Facebook page gained more notoriety, area TV stations began reporting on Spork's plight, bringing even more attention to the situation, and causing the membership to reach well into five figures.
"We've been so warmed by the generosity and spirit of people," Tim says. "And it's been shocking to learn how often this happens to people across the country -- and basically their tears fall silently on the kitchen floor because there's nothing they can do."
As for the Walkers, they're slated to have their day in court on April 23 in a trial before a judge magistrate; they'd prefer a jury, but the rules aren't written that way. They've already spent $6,000 in legal fees -- an amount that rises above $10,000 when loss of work to do research is taken into account. But Tim feels it's money that needed to be spent.
"For whatever reason, it's landed on us to pursue this really important mission," he says. "If we hadn't brought this to people's attention, it wouldn't have been a good outcome for Spork -- and it still may not. But we're going to do everything in our power to prevent anything bad from happening to our little buddy."