Michael Cook says he and his fiancée, Tammy Davis, were just trying to do the right thing when they paid $40 for a dog that their neighbor had left to languish on a backyard chain for a year.
They named the pit bull mastiff "Buddy," and when they first got him, he was a mess. Buddy had gouges in his ears, they said, caused by scratching fleas and flies, and scars on his tail and paws. He was so underweight that his ribs protruded and his collar hung like a necklace.
Cook says the couple dewormed Buddy, neutered him, fed him until he had gone from a bony 65 pounds to nearly 100. Buddy had learned some basic commands and was still gaining weight when he was seized by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region about two months later, along with the couple's dog of six years, a smaller pit named Roxy.
Cook is in the habit of rescuing dogs. Buddy was his fifth rescue; Roxy was his first. Roxy was about 8 months old when Cook got her — a runt being raised for dog fights, who had suffered repeated beatings. Cook describes Roxy as a gentle dog who played well with Davis' five young nieces and was so friendly that she won over strangers quickly.
Buddy, he says, had never been aggressive either. At first, he says, Buddy didn't even know how to run. But he had started enjoying life — playing with Roxy, running free at Stratton Reservoir, gobbling down his dinner. The dogs, he says, were good-natured.
There is, however, no question that Roxy and Buddy attacked a Humane Society officer on Aug. 26 (ironically, National Dog Day), biting him repeatedly.
He's still being treated, and there's a chance he has permanent nerve damage.
Cook and Davis, meanwhile, have spent a tenth of their annual income paying the Humane Society to board the dogs (so they are not euthanized) and paying a lawyer to negotiate to get the dogs back.
"Roxy is — I mean, she's our child," Cook says, adding that Buddy "was getting there" in the two months they had cared for him.
On the day the dogs were taken, Cook says Davis — who didn't want to talk directly to the Indy because she's wrapped up in the dogs' legal case — was home alone with their two dogs, when she noticed the large pit bull in her Hillside area neighbor's yard didn't have food or water.
It was a common occurrence. Cook says he's called the Humane Society a dozen times in the past year on his neighbor, after watching first Buddy, and another pit (who was chained in the yard when the Indy visited the home), suffer with heat, dehydration, hunger, bugs and rain. Other neighbors have also called, another neighbor, who didn't want to be named, confirmed.
Davis called the Humane Society that day, and an officer dropped by. But when Davis let Buddy and Roxy out of the house, they romped into the side yard and began jumping on the officer.
The couple claims the dogs initially wagged their tails, but were put off when the officer acted scared and defensive. The Humane Society, however, reports that the officer — who has six months' training in dog behavior and responding to aggressive dogs — stated that "they were on him before he had any time to react, immediately biting him all over." The officer also stated that Davis didn't help him and "appeared afraid of her own dogs." Davis says she did help and that she is not afraid of her pets.
Whatever the case, the dogs bit the officer, who fought back with a baton before exiting the yard and calling for backup. Two more Humane Society officers showed up, along with the police, and the dogs were seized. Police reported that Buddy was lunging at the fence at them; Buddy later had to be tranquilized before he was taken out of the van.
Since then, the couple has spent $1,200 to pay for one month of boarding for the dogs. The Humane Society explains that state statute requires owners pay those costs in such cases, so it's not a burden on taxpayers. The couple has a Facebook page for the dogs; a GoFundMe account, "Keep our dogs alive until court," and a new credit card that will soon be maxed out because of attorney fees.
The Humane Society is working with the couple's lawyer, but wants to put the dogs down.
"What if it had been a neighborhood child [who was attacked]?" Humane Society spokesperson Gretchen Pressley asks.
The flip side of this, Cook points out, is that the Humane Society didn't intervene when Buddy was in dire straits.
Pressley confirms that Humane Society officers have visited Cook's neighbor's home 14 times since 2008, but says, "[He has] never been issued a citation and there has never been probable cause to establish a violation of neglect or cruelty."
Speaking generally, Pressley explains that, while there are felony charges for animal abuse, those charges tend to be reserved for extreme cases where an animal is physically harmed or killed. Neglect is much harder to prove.
"According to the law," she says, "it has to be pretty severe in order for us to remove someone's animal. They have to be pretty much in immediate danger."
Cook's neighbor, who identifies himself only as "Aaron," currently has three dogs and tells the Indy they are in good health, even if one stays outside all the time.
"I ain't never had no problem with my dogs," he says. "I just have people calling the Humane Society and having the Humane Society come out here all the time — and they find there's nothing wrong."