2007-04-18 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Duke's press conference at Islip Shelter on April 9. Duke's press conference at Islip Shelter on April 9. Duke is a model prisoner, a victim of mistaken identity and one helluva dog according to all who really know him. He has no idea a judge sentenced him to death for "alleged" attacks on animals, or that his supporters have been trying desperately to save him or, worse, that despite rallies, petitions, media attention, and numerous court dates, two pending decisions from NYS Appellate Courts are his last chance.

Although the Pit Bull has spent 3 years (and 4 Christmases) in solitary confinement at Islip Town Shelter, his attitude remains positive and upbeat. Just ask the shelter personnel who have filed affidavits testifying to his exemplary manners, the well-known trainer who's demonstrated Duke's rapport with people and other dogs, and the crowd of reporters and photographers the big galoot showered with kisses at a press conference last week.

The ordeal began for Denise Menendez and Duke her now 5-yearold Pit in Oct. '03 when a neighbor filed a complaint alleging her dogs strayed from her Hauppauge yard, chased his horse and attacked his B u l l d o g . W h e n Denise's husband failed to appear at the correct court, a judge declared her dogs "dangerous" based solely on the neigh-bor's testimony. Later, although the Menendez dogs were muzzled and leash walked in their fenced yard, the accuser saying his dog was attacked again fingered Duke as the culprit. A judge ordered him euthanized for his "second" offense. Animal control seized Duke in Dec. '03, and he has been at the shelter ever since.

A series of missteps trampled Duke's defense. First there's the misconception that Duke has to be guilty because he's a Pit. Though it should be the deed, not the breed, a judge wouldn't have been as quick to condemn Duke if he were a chocolate Lab rather than a cherry nose Pit. Breed specific stigma is damning. Pit prejudice jeopardizes Duke's fate although he's never shown any aggression during his long shelter stay. Jeff Kolbjornsen of Elite Animal Trainers says Duke's temperament is super sound. He has manhandled him for reporters, and paraded the unfazed Pit Bull past friendly as well as truly aggressive dogs.

Most dogs would be showing neurotic and stressed behavior after being kenneled so long. Not Duke. Over the years, the peaceful prisoner and I have shared many a biscuit. The Islip staff adores him. His weekly family reunions with Denise and her kids are a joy to watch. Not convinced yet? Watch the video of Duke calmly walking past shelter dogs on his website

Travis, Shepherd mix, left, and Heckle, declawed cat, right. Travis, Shepherd mix, left, and Heckle, declawed cat, right. www.saveduke.homestead.com.

Denise says that it's a case of mistaken identity- her two Pits were in the house. Prior to the complaint the shelter has no record of her dogs running loose. According to court transcripts Duke's accuser had difficulty describing the canine criminal. When presented with a photo, he arbitrarily pointed to the dog with more white on his chest- which seems similar to the erroneous police line up assumption that one has to be the bad guy.

Denise admits that they goofed about going to the wrong court but miscommunication added to the problem. Denise vows: "I will continue to fight to bring Duke home. I'll do anything required by law to spare his life."

Duke's attorney, Amy Chaitoff, sees additional judicial snafus. She claims Duke's order of destruction is based on a misapplication of our state's dangerous dog law. Dog to dog incidents were excluded from the law at the time of the alleged incidents. Therefore, Duke would be punished too severely based on a law that wasn't in effect at the time the complaint was filed against him.

Poster Pets of the Week                Poster Pets of the Week Crucial lessons stem from Duke's dilemma. With pet ownership comes vigilance and responsibilities. Secure fencing, training, and supervision outdoors are crucial to the safety of everyone's pets. A similar "attack" scenario could plague anyone with a dog. Both sides need to be heard during neighborhood disputes. Owners must know their rights when defending their pets since judges decide these cases based merely on paper complaints. They never meet the dog in question.

Finally Town animal control officers, often at the scene, need peace officer authority to help the police clarify the law and to aid all pets and parties involved. The SPCA has this status, yet can't respond to dangerous dog claims as fast or as often.

At Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677- 5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. "Travis" #208 is a happy big-boned Shepherd mix who'd be much happier in a home. Other dogs include "Reba" #84 a good natured black Pit and "The Dog" #209- a comical, smooth Fox Terrier mix.

Cats: "Heckle" #174- an older, declawed cinnamon cat that was abandoned in an apartment along with his twin "Jeckle" #173; "Pecan" #180- an outgoing tabby & white fellow.

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