Four state lawmakers on Thursday asked the Aurora animal shelter to turn over records involving a suspected wolf hybrid named Capone and put any plans to euthanize the animal on hold.

“As members of the Colorado Legislature, we are concerned about the impoundment of Tracy Abbato’s family pet, Capone,” state Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and state Reps. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, wrote in a letter to the manager of the Aurora Animal Shelter.

The 11-year-old family pet, belonging to Tito Serrano and Abbato, was taken into custody by the city’s animal services department on Feb. 24, when he was found roaming near its home without a collar. Officials suspect the animal is a wolf-dog hybrid and have sent a DNA sample to experts in California for testing.

Aurora municipal ordinance forbids owning a wolf or wolf hybrid, and officials have refused to return Capone to the family pending resolution of the city’s charge.

Capone’s owners say they adopted the dog at the Adams County Animal Shelter roughly a decade ago and were told he was a German Shepherd mix.

On Wednesday, an Aurora judge continued a hearing for a week until March 22 to allow the family’s attorney to review the case.

Serrano faces five charges in the city’s municipal court, including owning an aggressive or dangerous animal; owning a wild, exotic or dangerous animal; owning an animal running at-large; failure to obtain a pet license; and lack of a current rabies vaccination.

Capone’s fate came to wide attention when his owners contacted the Fox31 Problem Solvers and the Denver-area TV station reported on the story earlier this week.

The four lawmakers say they’ve heard from many constituents about the matter, prompting them to submit a Colorado Open Records Act request to the city for “all correspondence regarding Capone and his owners.”

“We do not want the pet euthanized until we have a chance to review all the facts in this investigation,” the lawmakers say in their letter.

City officials have said that if they determine the animal is part wolf, they’ll try to place Capone with a sanctuary for wolves and wolf-dog hybrids but will euthanize him if they can’t find a suitable home.

Animal expert Suzanne Hetts, a certified applied animal behaviorist and president of Littleton-based Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., told the state lawmakers there’s no way to tell whether an animal is a dog or a wolf-dog hybrid based on its behavior, which was a reason cited by city officials when they impounded the family pet.

“There are no reliable indicators that would distinguish a dog/wolf  from a dog behaviorally,” Hetts said . “There are too many overlap or variable behaviors that prevent this distinction.”

The attorney representing Capone’s owners says Aurora’s ordinance doesn’t specify what constitutes a hybrid. Colorado law considers an animal domestic if it contains even just a trace of non-wild ancestry, but municipalities can set stricter standards.

Melton, whose legislative district includes the dog’s owners’ home, told The Colorado Statesman he was concerned the city was rushing to judgment without considering all the relevant facts.

“Can we really determine based on DNA if this is a wolf-dog hybrid?” he asked. “This dog has never demonstrated any violent behavior, plays well with the family’s other dog, plays well with their kids. I understand public safety, but we should be looking at the whole picture.”

“There’s a question about fairness vs. public safety,” Melton added. “We should look at this on a case-by-case basis.”

Aurora officials posted an update on the city’s Facebook page Wednesday afternoon noting that Capone “will remain in the care of the Aurora Animal Shelter” until next week’s scheduled court hearing. “Because this is an ongoing legal case, we are unable to provide additional details at this time,” the city wrote. “Thank you.”

ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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