Dog attack: Bicyclist Renee Legro, mauled for twenty minutes, sues sheep herders

What do you get when you mix Colorado's growing culture of outdoors enthusiasts with the state's dying breed of mountain ranchers?

If you're Renee Legro of Glenwood Springs, the answer is a twenty-minute attack during a bicycle race that resulted in hundreds of stitches, not to mention a pending lawsuit.

Legro is suing the owners of two Great Pyrenees dogs who ruffed her up in June 2008 during a bike race in the Camp Hale area near Leadville. She alleges that the two dogs, which are trained to defend herds from wild predators, attacked her, dragged her to the ground and "bit and mauled" her until help arrived -- and her lawyer says she's still traumatized.

The sheep-herding dog owner, Sam Robinson, was convicted of unlawful ownership of a dangerous dog, a misdemeanor criminal offense, in September 2009 following a one-day trial in Eagle County District Court. But Joe Bloch, Legro's attorney, says his client and her husband, Steve Legro, ought to be thrown a bone in civil court.

His client will never fully recover from the dog day, he says. Legro was put out of work from a new job in Glenwood Springs as a speech pathologist, as well as being badly scarred and probably requiring surgery for her fractured ankle. Not to mention that she lost the race.

"Her life has significantly changed, very drastically," Bloch says. "To the point where she's afraid of the family pet. Any dog comes near her, she screams. She's having a difficult time right now."

Arcane laws written at the turn of the 20th century protect herders like Robinson from civil suits if bites from animals protecting livestock occur on the owner's property, Bloch says. But because the attack happened on a public road during a Vail-sponsored bike race, Robinson isn't covered under the exemption, he argues.

What's more, Robinson and his wife, Cheri, had previously been cited -- days before -- when a third dog attacked someone, Bloch claims.

"They were very non-remorseful throughout the criminal case," he says. "These dogs are bred basically to attack wild animals. These dogs aren't pets... They knew these dogs were attacking people."

But Robinson, who could not be reached for this article, has said in the past that he is the victim.

In a November 2009 Los Angeles Times article, Robinson said he was forced to turn to the use of guard dogs after Colorado banned traps to deter predators from thinning out his 1,300 sheep herd years ago. And the Vail Recreational District had failed to notify him prior to the race to move his herd from the valley, where the Forest Service permits them to graze.

Robinson told the Times, "It's the suburban mentality -- they think their milk comes out of a plastic jug, they think their meat comes out of a container. They don't realize you have to live like a Third World person to produce meat in the United States... My dad warned me, this state was going to be turned into one big playground."

The unusual story exemplifies the unfortunate intersection of Western and the West -- Colorado's balance of yuppie enthusiasts for the outdoors and dwindling Aggies who see the land as sustenance, not entertainment.

Both sides of the dog fight left unhappy after Robinson was ordered to serve 500 hours of community service and pay $500 to charity in 2009. But though the court may have been sheepish in the criminal trial, Bloch says the dog owners have no defense for the attacks that left Legro hurt, out of work and traumatized.

"Her emotional injuries are going to be life-long," he contends. "I mean, she thought she was going to die. She has very serious injuries."

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane