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.
Marijuana Deals Near You
"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.
We reached out to the Brighton Police Department regarding these assertions, and -- update -- feature a spokesman's responses in a new post. To read it, click here.
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."
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."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
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."