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Joan Zalk, yoga instructor, charged with animal cruelty for walking chihuahua while driving car

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Cooper the chihuahua undoubtedly has many fine qualities, but long legs and an ability to run at great speed aren't among them.

Which helps explain why yoga instructor and acupuncturist Joan Zalk has been charged with animal cruelty -- for walking Cooper while driving her car.

According to the Boulder Police Department report on view below, Jeremy Denbow contacted police just past 9 a.m. on September 16 to report that a woman in a Toyota Camry was driving down the street while holding a leash connected to a chihuahua that was running alongside the vehicle. Even by Boulder standards, this was a strange sight -- strange enough for Denbow to snap a cell-phone photo that's been entered into evidence.

Minutes later, the cops received another call about the Camry-chihuahua combo, this time from Debra Baros. Accompanying her was Elizabeth Whaley, who was horrified by what she witnessed. "The poor dog was running its guts out trying to keep up," she later told officers, and no wonder, since assorted witnesses estimated that the Camry had been traveling at between ten and twenty miles per hour.

Whaley said she followed behind Zalk in her vehicle for a time, eventually pulling alongside her, but swinging wide in order not to squish the little guy -- something she feared other drivers might do inadvertently. "What are you doing?" she shouted.

"Just walking my dog," Zalk replied, according to Whaley. (In truth, the dog belonged to Erin Livers, for whom Zalk was dogsitting.) She added that she "does this all the time" and assured her that everything was okay, since she lived just up the street.

This info didn't reassure Whaley. "That is not how you walk a dog," she recalled saying, and told Zalk to put the chihuahua inside the car.

To that, Zalk allegedly said, "Excuse me. I have a gun in my car. Do you want me to get it?"

"Are you threatening me?" Whaley asked.

"I'm going home," Zalk replied -- and that's where police found her.

At first, officers thought Cooper was in good condition. But a closer examination revealed fresh abrasions on his neck marked by complete hair loss, bumps on the skin and open flesh, presumably caused by friction from his collar.

Zalk acknowledged telling Whaley she had a gun -- which she didn't, by the way. She insisted that she felt threatened, because she said Whaley's car had blocked her path, giving her no escape route. (Whaley and Baros deny this.) As for what she'd been doing, she said the dog needed to walk at least three miles a day or it would go "ballistic," and insisted that its owner, Livers, had no problems with her leash-out-the-car-window method. "She's okay with this," Zalk maintained. "She knows sometimes I run Cooper while I ride my bike, too."

When quizzed later, Livers denied knowing Zalk walked the dog using her car, although she confirmed the story about the bike. She also claimed Cooper had a skin problem of the sort officers noticed on his neck; he had some older scabs as well. However, personnel at the clinic where Livers said Cooper had been treated didn't know anything about such a condition.

In the meantime, the cops put Zalk under arrest for animal cruelty and felony menacing, which crimped her plans to go climbing with a friend. She told officers she hoped she'd be released soon, so she could head for the hills.

Contacted later by the Boulder Daily Camera, Zalk asserted that the dog hadn't been abused and she looked forward to clearing her name. Cooper couldn't be reached for comment.

Look below to check out a larger Zalk mug shot and the entire police report:

Joan Zalk Police Report

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Poisoned dogs: Firestone PD seeks person who committed 'cowardly act of killing two pets."

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