Spork denied: Judge refuses to dismiss charges against dachshund cited as vicious

Monday, we updated you on the story of Spork, a ten-year dachshund that received a vicious-dog citation after biting a veterinary technician -- an injury that may have involved Spork eating the woman's lips according to a Lafayette City Councilman.

Attorneys from the Animal Law Center, representing Spork's owners, Tim and Kelly Walker, argued that the charge against Spork be dismissed because veterinary personnel are specifically precluded from bringing such charges against animals by state law, although the Lafayette ordinance allows it. Late yesterday, Municipal Judge Roger Buchholz rejected that argument, although he added that Lafayette might want to consider rewriting its measure to be more in line with the state's language on this subject.

Given this aside, says Animal Law Center spokesman Kurt Holzberlein, the decision "isn't going to doom the case," which is slated to go to trial on April 20. "I think that the fact the judge suggested in his decision that the city council readdress the ordinance suggests that there is some sympathy for the Walker's plight."

Check out a key section of Buchholz's ruling, which can be read in its entirety by clicking here:

Defendant also argues that from a public policy standpoint, that if the Lafayette ordinance is enforceable, it would result in undesirable outcomes, including discouraging people from seeking care for their pets in the city. This is simply not persuasive given the overwhelming number of jurisdictions cited above that maintain similar laws. However, Defendant has raised other public policy rationales that make a "veterinarian exception" a reasonable provision for a legislative body to consider. It may be that now the issue is raised, the Lafayette City Council and other City Councils may want to review and revise their ordinances...

Although Tim Walker expresses frustration about this ruling in a prepared statement, Holzberlein emphasizes that the owners "are fine. While they're disappointed, it wasn't something that came out of the blue. It wasn't as if they weren't prepared for the possibility that things would come out this way, and they're ready to go forward with the case and present it on April 20."

Holzberlein believes the efforts of Lafayette City Councilman Kerry Bensman to portray Spork as more surly than most of the news media has implied -- by, among other things, releasing an e-mail for an unnamed individual who says Spork bit him in 2001 -- don't seem to have cut into support for the Walkers.

"We haven't seen any backlash," he allows. "We still find it curious why a city councilman is weighing in on this matter. But if you look at the Save Spork Facebook page the Walkers created, the comments are overwhelmingly in their favor. Not all of the comments outright condemn everything that happened, but they're in favor of Spork. They think Spork was a dog that was afraid when he was at the vet and shouldn't be facing these criminal charges."

Thanks to Judge Buchholz, the Walkers will have to hang on for more than a month before getting the opportunity to address the citation again. As Holzberlein acknowledges, "it's a waiting game at this point."

Here's an Animal Law Center release featuring the aforementioned Tim Walker comment:


Lafayette Municipal Judge Roger Buchholz suggests that Lafayette City Council revise ordinance.

March 9, 2010; FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Today, Judge Roger Buchholz denied a motion to dismiss the criminal case against Tim and Kelly Walker, owners of Spork, stating that the Lafayette vicious animal ordinance does not conflict with Colorado state law. However, Judge Buchholz did note in his opinion that the defendant did raise a "reasonable provision for a legislative body to consider" with regard to exempting animal health care workers from the ordinance. He went on to say that "the Lafayette city Council and other city councils may want to review and revise their ordinances."

That motion cited by attorneys with The Animal Law Center is Colorado State Statute §18-9-204.5(6)(b), which states that veterinary health care workers, dog groomers, humane agency personnel, professional dog handlers or trainers and grooming providers are exempt from filing vicious dog charges as a result of any injuries experienced during the course of their work.

"I am more than disappointed with today's ruling," said Tim Walker, owner of Spork. "We believe this ordinance is short-sighted and has unfairly placed Spork in jeopardy."

"We believe that Lafayette's vicious animal ordinance definitely flies-in-the-face of the Colorado statute," said Jennifer Edwards, founder and attorney at The Animal Law Center, based in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. "The intent of the Colorado law is clear when it states that dangerous dogs are an issue of statewide concern, not just a single jurisdiction. That's why this law is on the books - to provide a statewide ruling in this matter."

Criminal trial is set for April 20, 2010.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts