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Pet owner says neighbor wouldn't return her dog; City Attorney declines charges

Dog owner: "The law is super flawed right now"
Luna
Posted at 6:38 PM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-08 00:41:21-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — A Colorado Springs dog owner wants charges brought against a woman who found her dog, but wouldn't give her back.

While police say they don't have probable cause for a criminal theft case, they did say a municipal summons related to a city statute may apply, but News 5 Investigates uncovered the City Attorney's Office rejected the case.

Kristen Johnson wants her 9-month-old Husky named "Luna" to come home. She never pictured being in the situation she's currently in after Luna disappeared from her southeast Colorado Springs neighborhood back in August.

Luna and Kristen
Luna and Kristen

"My dog is registered, all vaccines are up-to-date and she is micro chipped," Kristen said. "I thought at that point the law would protect me, but the law did nothing."

On August 18, Kristen received good news from Luna's micro chipping company----Luna had been found and scanned in at a local vet clinic.

The micro chipping company gave Kristen the telephone number of the woman who found her dog, but the story doesn't end here.

"Right after I hung up with her, she blocked her number," Kristen said.

Kristen says after unsuccessfully trying to get Luna back from the woman who found her, she called both police and the sheriff's office.

In a good-faith effort to help, Colorado Springs police Lt. James "Jim" Sokolik says the department attempted to coordinate the safe return of Luna, but ultimately hit a dead end.

At first, Kristen said law enforcement advised her that Luna had been given away to another person in Florida—-that's the story the woman who found her gave authorities.

After police followed up with that woman and asked her to return the dog to its rightful owner, the woman then told investigators she had lost Luna in transit.

Regardless of which story is true doesn't matter when it comes down to city code.

"If you find a dog, what you're required to do is notify the city within a reasonable time or in this case, take it to the humane society," Lt. Sokolik explained.

Colorado Springs City Code 6-10-103 B states the following:

"In the event an animal is picked up by any person other than an animal control officer, it shall be the duty of the person to notify the city within a reasonable time after the action, or to deliver the animal to the animal shelter."

City statute
City statute 6-10-103 "Duty to Impound"

The woman who found Luna did not follow this process and the case was referred to City Attorney Wynetta Massey for a charging decision.

Massey ultimately declined to file charges——but we don't know why.

We reached out to Massey for comment via Jamie Fabos, the Chief Communications Officer for the City of Colorado Springs.

"The City Attorney does not give legal advice to citizens," Fabos said.

News 5 followed up two more times with the city to clarify that we weren't looking for legal advice. We were only seeking an explanation on Massey's decision on why city statute didn't apply in this case.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey
City Attorney Wynetta Massey

"We can't provide 'context' to the law," Fabos said. "You might ask KOAA's attorneys to help you understand any statutory language, etc."

While CSPD could not comment directly on Massey's charging decision, Lt. Sokolik did point out a potential gray area in the city code.

Sokolik explained that the city code is not clear on how long a person who finds an animal must keep him/her or how quickly someone must notify the humane society when they find a lost pet.

"It is not clearly delineated for an individual," Sokolik said.

However, if an animal control officer picks up a pet, it must be kept for 5 days—-the law is crystal clear in that regard.

Current city code also does not address how long a person must wait to give away or sell a pet that is microchipped.

"The law is just super flawed right now," Kristen said. There's no definitive line that can be crossed when someone takes a dog. It's very frustrating----very frustrating. I just want my dog back."

What to do if your dog is lost:

Many lost pets end up at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. You can visit their web site or call to inquire about a lost pet.

If your pet has been located and the person who found your pet is refusing to return them, you can always contact animal law enforcement through HSPPR. You can learn more about animal law enforcement's role here.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ's):

Q: Why wasn't this case considered a criminal matter?

A: According to police, there was not enough probable cause to pursue theft charges. No case is the same, and police must consider all the facts presented for each matter at hand. As an example, CSPD says a theft case may have been appropriate if someone reaches over a fence or goes onto private property to take someone's pet. That's a totally different scenario compared to someone who took a dog home that they found wondering in the street.

Q: What is the purpose of microchipping a pet if there's no guarantees I'll get my pet back?

A: Micro chipping is a tool used to help pet owners get reunited with their lost animals. It's not a live GPS tracker like a smartphone. However, if a microchipped pet is turned into a vet clinic or animal shelter, staff can scan the chip and obtain the contact information for its owner.

Q: Why didn't you name the woman who found the dog and wouldn't return her to her owner?

A: Since no charges were filed, News 5 made an editorial decision not to name that individual. Should charges be filed at a later date, this story will be updated.

Have a story you'd like News 5 Investigates to look into? Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com