Spork under attack: As judge weighs dismissal of vicious dog charge against dachshund, councilman shares claim of earlier bites

Last month, we shared the story of Spork, a dachshund owned by Lafayette's Tim and Kelly Walker who bit a veterinary technician at Jasper Animal Hospital -- and subsequently received a vicious animal citation.

The tale stirred protests, a Save Spork Facebook campaign and media coverage sympathetic to the pet. The latter bothered Lafayette City Councilman Kerry Bensman, who thinks the press improperly overlooked the severity of the injuries to the vet tech. He surmises that Spork bit off the woman's lips and ate them.

The latest? A judge in Lafayette Municipal Court heard an argument from the Walkers' attorneys to dismiss the charges against Spork -- and Bensman shared an e-mail from a person who identified himself as a former co-worker of Tim's, claiming that Spork regularly bit him. Read it below.

A trial for Spork had been scheduled for April 23, but things moved more quickly than anticipated, lawyer Jennifer Edwards says. "We had filed a motion to dismiss the charges some time ago, and the Lafayette City Attorney responded to it, but we had heard nothing back from the court. So we made a decision that with all the publicity and social outcry that this case has created, it was due time to request a forthwith hearing.

"We did that on Wednesday after meeting with our clients, and on Thursday morning, we got a call from the court saying the judge [Roger Buchholz] just happened to have time on Friday afternoon in order to hear the arguments for our motion. So we began to prep and argued the motion on Friday."

The main assertions before the judge:

"Dangerous dogs are an issue of statewide concern, so there needs to be some uniformity within the law. For example, if someone's dog falls ill in the middle of the night, or if it's hit by a car, they shouldn't have to venue-shop to find out what jurisdiction is safe to bring their dog. If a dog's in extraordinary pain, it could bite out of fear or pain" -- which is why, in her opinion, state law exempts veterinary workers from being able to file claims against animals in such situations. However, she continues, such a person could make such a charge in Lafayette due to differences in the municipal ordinance and the one covering the state.

"Why would you bring your dog to any facility in Lafayette when you're not afforded those protections?" she asks. "And yet those protections are afforded the government. There are similar things in the Lafayette code involving police dogs. So the government is protecting itself, but not their citizens -- at least not to the same extent."

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Buchholz said that he'd deliver a ruling on the dismissal request early this week. "If it's successful on our behalf, charges will be dismissed and the Walkers get to move on with their lives," Edwards says. "And hopefully, at that time, the city council will revisit the ordinances and adjust them as necessary."

If, on the other hand, the judge doesn't dismiss the case, a trial for Spork will move forward as scheduled.

In the meantime, Councilman Bensman, who recently announced that he'll be resigning from his governmental position for financial and health reasons, forwarded Westword a copy of an e-mail he says was sent to a general address for the city council. He removed the name of the sender, who writes that he worked with Tim Walker nine years ago and had negative experiences with Spork. The e-mail reads:

To: City Council

Subject: I support your efforts to protect health works from Spork the dog

I was not surprised when I was the story of Spork the dog attacking someone in today's Daily Camera.

I worked with Mr. Walker in 2001. It was a small office and we allowed employees to bring their dogs to work.

However, Spork was clearly a nervous, vicious animal.

He would lay on the floor near Mr. Walker, and I would walk over to speak with Mr. Walker. Spork would suddenly lunge at me. He bit me several times on the lower leg. Luckily I was wearing heavy pants, or I suspect I would have needed stitches. Nonetheless, Spork drew blood with his bites. He also lunged at other employees in the office. These attacks were totally unprovoked and came out of nowhere. It sounds like the same thing happened to the medical worker who was bitten.

We attempted to bring Spork treats, and to approach him slowly and cautiously, so he would become acclimated to us. It did not work. I had to ask Mr. Walker to stop bringing Spork to the office. He swore up and down that the dog had never exhibited this type of behavior before, just like he is now in front of the media.

I'm a dog lover. I've had dogs all my life, and I currently have a mixed breed that we adopted from the Boulder Shelter. I can't think of any other dog that I've had a problem with, including a couple of my dogs in my neighborhood who bit others and had to be euthanized. I've never been bitten by any other dog.

Mr. Walker is attempting to manipulate you through the media. I applaud your efforts, and hope you stand your ground. Dog owners (guardians in Boulder) need to take responsibility for recognizing bad behavior in their pets and properly train their animals. There are many well-qualified trainers that could help the Walkers with Spork. Please insist that the Walkers get proper training for this dog, or get rid of it.

According to Edwards, Tim doesn't remember any incidents like the ones described in the e-mail. Moreover, as she points out, Spork is only ten-years old -- meaning that he would have been a puppy back in 2001. "We've all been around puppies, and they certainly can be little nippers," she says. "They have those little needle teeth."

More recently, though, Edwards says Spork has undergone what she calls "a temperament evaluation with an expert, and we have plenty of references about little Spork from dog-sitters, people who've worked with Spork, doggy day-care workers, that sort of thing. And he's not a vicious dog."

She's also frustrated by what she sees as Bensman's efforts to spin the story even as he accuses the Walkers of doing the same thing.

"My clients have made a request through the Colorado Open Records Act for all e-mails that have come in to the city about this," she says. "And it seems very strange to me that they're picking and choosing which e-mails to forward to the public. They've given us excuse after excuse about why they haven't shared them with us.

"Mr. Bensman wants full disclosure of everything, and wants everyone to hear both sides of the story. Well, the other side is, my clients requested governmental e-mails, and they're essentially denying their request. And I'm not sure why a city councilman would be weighing in so heavily on one side or the other anyway. It seems to me that a governmental official in this capacity would want to remain neutral, and be more worried about the citizens and the community than his personal take on the issue."

In regard to Bensman's emphasis on the severity of the injury sustained by the vet tech, Edwards stresses that the Walkers and everyone else involved in the case "are extremely concerned about her injuries, and feel very badly that these injuries occurred." Nevertheless, "the extent of her injuries don't really weigh in on this case. It doesn't matter if they were very minor or very serious -- whether she lost an arm during the course of her work or had a little nick or lost lips or whatever the case may be. The law has a broad restriction against bringing these kinds of charges when they involve a veterinary care official, because there's an assumption of risk and there's training to prevent this kind of thing from happening."

Should Spork prevail, would the Walkers consider suing Lafayette to recoup attorneys fees and possible damages? "I'm not going to comment on that at this time," Edwards says. "I don't know what my clients are going to seek after this is over. I think they just want to get this nightmare behind them, and once their heads are above water a little bit, they'll be able to think more clearly."

Until then, the waiting game continues -- but with a more imminent than expected deadline.

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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