Dog’s death at Aurora animal shelter sparks mandatory delay for destroying surrendered pets

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AURORA | dog named Blu that was destroyed by staff at the Aurora animal shelter last month has motivated Aurora lawmakers to make changes in how the city deals with dogs that are surrendered to the shelter by court orders.

Council member Charlie Richardson presented an ordinance to a city council policy committee last week that mandates a seven-day internal hold on court surrendered animals at no cost to the owner. In that time a dog could not be destroyed.

Mixed-breed Blu poses with one of his owners before the 3-year-old dog was destroyed by the Aurora Animal Shelter Jan. 9 Contributed photo

Currently there is no hold on animals after the disposition hearing. Instead, owners are given the opportunity to pay an appeal bond that creates an indefinite stay until the appeal process is completed. If no appeal is made immediately, the dog becomes the property of the city.

In the case of Blu, the dog was destroyed within two days of the hearing, and the owner was not notified, according to city records. Aurora Animal Care staff say since the city became the new owner of the dog, after the court order, the previous owner didn’t have to be notified.

Richardson’s proposed policy has already been implemented as city policy by City Manager Jim Twombly. Richardson told the Sentinel he wants the rules set in city law.

“The city managers could snap their fingers and make a policy, and snap again and the policy goes away. I want the force of law behind these protocols,” Richardson said.

Twombly has also said he’s going to work with legal staff to develop a “notice of right to appeal” document that can be issued with the summons and reiterated at the disposition hearing. Additional policy would make appeals options clear during disposition hearings.

The policy changes stem from an incident with a mixed-breed dog named Blu. Denver TV news Fox 31 first reported last month that Blu’s owners were unaware that their dog was set to be “euthanized” after a judge ordered the dog to be surrendered to the shelter on Jan. 7. The dog was destroyed two days later.

The city’s problem’s with Blu began about two months earlier.

Blu first arrived at the shelter on Nov. 8, a week after the dog reportedly bit a victim. The owner of the dog, Tracey Prim, was cited for having an “aggressive, intact and restricted dog breed,” according to a report from the city.

Prim said she is going to trial in February for the aggressive dog charge — which she says is unfair because another dog had broken into her yard.

“Blu was just protecting me,” Prim said.

After Blu was taken into the shelter and assumed to have been a pit bull, a DNA test was performed. But the dog was determined to be less than 50 percent pit bull. Under Aurora rules, it was not deemed a pit-bull, which are banned in the city.

An Aurora judge released the dog to Prim with restrictions that included mandating the dog wear a muzzle and walk on a leash no longer than 4 feet.

The city informed the owner that Blu could be neutered at the shelter, and so Prim’s brother brought Blu back, but not on the court-ordered 4-foot leash and not in the required muzzle, according to the city. Prim said her brother brought the dog in, but not with the given mandates because they believed it was a condition of being a pit bull.

Animal shelter staff said the dog became aggressive when the owner attempted to put a muzzle on Blu. On Dec. 13, staff informed the city attorney’s office about the incident, according to the city’s report on the case.

On Jan. 4, the owner’s brother arrived at the animal shelter again to retrieve Blu, this time with a muzzle. It was too small, so staff provided a bigger muzzle.

The man was “unsuccessful after multiple attempts to muzzle the dog. As the dog began to snap, the handler used more aggressive restraint tactics,” according to a city report.

“The dog became highly aroused; the handler put the dog in a headlock to attempt to close the dog’s mouth so the owner could muzzle the dog. All efforts failed and the owner struck the dog with an open palm multiple times while ordering the dog to ‘quit.’”

Prim said the dog was not aggressive, just excited to see its owners.

“I know he was anxious and he wanted to go home,” Prim said. “He hasn’t seen us in a while. He was in the animal shelter, they wouldn’t let us see him.”

The report said staff then intervened for the safety of the animal and the owner and escorted the dog’s owners to the lobby.  A city prosecutor then filed an emergency motion to reconsider. A stay was placed on the Blu case until Jan 7, when a judged ruled Blu be surrendered to the city. The dog was destroyed Jan. 9.

“Aurora seems to have a chronic problem with these high-profile dog cases,” Richardson said. “I’m just trying to have some more due process, to slow things down a little bit.”

Richardson, who is a former city attorney, said the owner had no opportunity to get legal counsel before Blu was killed. The policy meeting Richardson presented to approved sending the ordinance to the full city council during a study session next month.

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