AURORA | A family from north Aurora who has been without their pet for nearly a month will be able to reunite with the pooch, Capone, later today after city officials ceded in court Wednesday afternoon the dog was not a wolf-hybrid or a dangerous animal.
Aurora residents Tito Serrano and Tracy Abbato, who co-own the 11-year-old dog, pleaded guilty in Aurora municipal court Wednesday to three of the five charges city officials had originally levied against them after Capone was picked up Feb. 24 by Aurora animal control officers. The dog, a German Shephard-Labrador mix, had jumped a fence in the family’s yard and run into a neighbor’s yard prior to being scooped up by animal control.
Serrano, who was the technical defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to not having Capone’s rabies inoculation and city registration tags up-to-date, and having a dog running at-large. The two more serious charges, owning a wild or exotic animal and owning an aggressive or dangerous animal, were dropped.
“We believe this resolution strikes a balance between keeping the family and their longtime pet together, and addressing the safety of the community as a whole,” Jenee Shipman, manager of Aurora Animal Services, said in a statement. “The welfare of both Aurora’s pet population and our residents is an issue we take seriously, and we are glad to have come to an amicable agreement in this situation. The terms of the agreement provide us with reasonable assurance that Capone will not be able to escape and pose any sort of threat.”
The family will be able to pick the dog up at 4 p.m. Wednesday from the Aurora Animal Shelter, where he has been held since being captured last month. The dog will receive an updated rabies vaccine prior to being released.
“I’m so happy I might cry when I see him,” Serrano said.
All city fines and animal control fees facing Serrano and Abbato were dropped, save for a $10 administrative court fee, attorneys for the couple said. The couple could face additional fines and sanctions, however, if the dog is involved in other violations within the next 12 months.
The city originally believed the dog to be a wolf-hybrid due to its “behavior, mannerisms and physical characteristics,” according to City Spokesman Michael Bryant.
In a statement describing the initial interaction in February, city officials said: “The responding officer assessed the dog, which had been at the (neighbor’s) residence for five hours, and noted continued aggressive behavior, including approaching with bared teeth, low growling, hard stare and lowered head.”
Under Aurora city code, it is illegal for residents to own a wolf or wolf-hybrid.
But after Capone’s blood was tested for evidence of wolf DNA at a University of California-Davis laboratory, the dog was deemed not to be a descendent of wolves, Serrano said.
“Zero percent wolf,” he said after the court proceedings Wednesday.
Both Serrano and Abbato partially credited their success in the case to the recent social media firestorm criticizing the city’s policies.
Several city council members also took a recent interest in the case. Council members Charlie Richardson and Renie Peterson both attended the hearing Wednesday.
The family members still face several stipulations, including keeping the dog mostly indoors and leashed and muzzled when in certain sections of their yard, until they construct a six-foot-tall fence, per their agreement with the city. But Serrano said he’s already purchased all of the necessary materials to build a fence and will do so promptly.
He added that money raised through a GoFundMe page for the family will be used to pay outstanding attorney’s fees. Any leftover cash will be donated to a German Shepherd rescue.
The wolf-hybrid test conducted at UC-Davis can detect hybrids within three generations, according to the school’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.
“Because of the close genetic relationship among dogs and wolves, wolf ancestry beyond three generations may be undetectable by these tests,” according to the university’s website for the animal genetics lab. There are an estimated 300,000 wolf-dog hybrids in the U.S., according to UC-Davis.
The city faced an onslaught of criticism tied to its handling of Capone’s case on social media in the days and weeks leading up to the recent court proceedings. The story gained national attention after Fox 31 Denver first reported on the story earlier this month.
Serrano and Abbato said they rescued the dog from an Adams County animal shelter when the animal was about nine months old.
Jennifer Edwards, an attorney at The Animal Law Center in Englewood who helped represent Serrano, said the city’s actions were a slight to Adams County.
“I think Aurora really undermined Adams County in this case,” Edwards said. “You know they adopted him (Capone) from the Adams County shelter and (the city is) basically saying, ‘Adams County you don’t know how to identify a dog, but we do’ … and I think that’s not a good thing.”
Serrano said Capone does not typically display aggressive behavior other than barking at passerby on the street. He added that the fence-jumping incident Feb. 24 was the first time the dog had ever run away.
Abbato said the dog bit one person about four years ago after an allegedly intoxicated individual entered the couple’s yard in north Aurora. She said neither she nor Serrano faced any criminal charges or fines following that incident.
Serrano said Capone’s absence at home has been difficult on his three children.
“It’s been pretty stressful not having him home,” he said last week. “And it’s been pretty hard on my kids — that’s the main thing.”