Three dogs that killed a cat, bit a woman and mauled a handler at Coal Ridge Animal Hospital could come home to Firestone after their owner gets out of jail, because of the way laws governing animals are written.
Neighbors who live near the dogs’ home in the 400 block of Florence Avenue in Firestone are terrified and believe the dogs could kill someone.
But the dogs’ owner, David Riley, has said when his pets come back to him, he’ll move out to the country and everyone will be fine.
“Ask almost anyone in the vicinity of Fourth Street and Florence Avenue and they will likely have some horror story to tell about the Rileys’ dogs,” neighbor Kent Busnardo said.
On Friday, a jury in Weld County District Court found Riley, 37, guilty of owning a vicious dog that caused bodily injury.
The case was about Rosa Storm, a Firestone woman who was walking her Siberian husky on Sept. 3. Riley’s dogs, Bruni, Angel and Scout, broke out of their kennel and attacked her dogs; one of the dogs bit Storm’s hand.
Riley faced three counts of owning a vicious dog causing serious bodily injury. But the jury found guilt on only one charge and dropped “serious” from the bodily injury claim.
That stripped the judge’s power to euthanize the dogs, according the LeAnne Glasgow, spokeswoman for the Weld County District Attorney’s Office.
Busnardo said the dogs — two males and one female, all boxer mixes — should be put down, but a legal technicality excluded two past attacks by the dog in the trial, sending them back to Riley.
Neighbors will go to the Firestone Board of Trustees tonight to seek another solution.
Riley will pay fines and spend 60 days in jail. The dogs will stay with a training program until Riley gets out of jail. The dogs must also live in a secured kennel with a cement floor and a thick metal fence with razor wire on top.
Storm couldn’t believe the ruling.
“Next time it’s going to be worse, and I’m sure of that,” she said.
What’s bothering Storm, Busnardo and a handful of neighbors is that two other attacks by the dogs were not considered by the jury Friday.
Glasgow said they would have showed a history of vicious attacks and likely resulted in a stiffer punishment.
Before Storm was bit, police cited David Riley’s mother, Jackie, after the dogs broke out of their kennel and killed a neighbor’s cat.
That case couldn’t be used against David Riley, because courts don’t recognize dogs, only people. So David Riley had no history of owning vicious dogs, Glasgow explained.
A third and more grisly incident wasn’t brought up in court, either.
On Sept. 23 the three dogs attacked 18-year-old Adam Stutzman, a handler at Coal Ridge Animal Hospital, where the dogs were impounded while David Riley waited for trial in Storm’s case.
Stutzman was with Jackie Riley in an open area of the clinic when one of the males lunged at his face without warning, according to Susan Burke Rosen, an animal behaviorist in Longmont who researched the attack.
She said it was a pack-like attack. The female bit Stutzman on the leg, bringing the man to the ground, and the dogs started biting his head, face, neck and chest.
“They took him down with the intent to kill him,” she said.
Photos of Stutzman’s injuries showed various gaping cuts all over his body. He stayed in intensive care at a Denver hospital for four days. At one point, he couldn’t breath because of swelling on his neck, Rosen said.
Anita Knudson, owner of Coal Ridge Animal Hospital, said Stutzman saved himself while Jackie Riley watched.
“Once they took him down, they continued to attack him until he managed to pull himself into the building,” she said.
Stutzman can’t file criminal charges on the Rileys for the incident. A state law says handlers, veterinarians or anyone in legal care of an animal can’t seek criminal charges for bite injuries, though he can file in civil court, Glasgow said.
The law also kept the attack from being considered in Storm’s case.
Today, the dogs are at Colorado Dog Training Academy in Broomfield and will remain there until David Riley gets out of jail, said attorney Steven Louth, who represents Riley.
Louth said his client wanted to do anything possible to save the dogs. He views them as family, even more so since David Riley’s brother committed suicide a couple of years ago.
“He believes the dogs are all he has to live for,” Louth said.
He added that he regrets all the problems with the dogs, but that they only have showed aggression to other animals, not humans, until they were taken away from him.
He believes Storm was protecting her own dog and Stutzman posed a threat to Jackie Riley while she checked one of the animal’s paws for injury.
Louth said the Rileys plan to sell their home in Firestone and have signed a lease for a place somewhere in a rural area.
“It’s my hope that those dogs are never going to set foot in Firestone, and by the sounds of it, I believe that’s going to happen,” Louth said.
Either way, Rosen and Knudson still believe the dogs are dangerous and that the courts failed to solve the problem.
“The way that the system is put together, it doesn’t protect the people,” Rosen said, adding that letting the dogs return to Riley gives them another chance to hurt someone.
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said his office did what it could, pushing for the serious bodily injury charge.
“The jury in this case didn’t find serious bodily injury, which was what was requested,” he said.
Douglas Crowl can be reached at 303-684-5253, or by e-mail at email@example.com.