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Charge could follow dog bite
By Greg Massé
Post Independent Staff

May 6, 2004

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Authorities here are still deciding whether to cite hybrid-wolf dog owner Jim Wagner with a vicious dog charge.  One of Wagner’s wolf hybrids attacked 7-year-old Gracie McSwain on Monday while Wagner was out of town on business.

The girl was on Wagner’s property with her mom, Chris McSwain, taking pictures of the hybrid dogs for a school project, police reports said. Police Lt. Bill Kimminau said Gracie and her mom had permission to be on the property.  At some point during the photo shoot, one of the dogs leaped at Gracie McSwain and bit her on the left side of her face. She suffered injuries to her cheek and lips.

The woman caring for Wagner’s dogs at the time of the attack has already been cited on a vicious dog charge, but police chief Terry Wilson said he and city attorney Karl Hanlon are still deciding whether to charge Wagner.
“I don’t know at this point,” Wilson said. The misdemeanor charge carries a possible penalty of a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

It also is not yet clear how long the two dogs taken from Wagner’s property will be in quarantine at Colorado Animal Rescue in Spring Valley. They will stay for at least 10 days to give veterinarians a chance to observe the dogs for signs of a rabies infection, but Wagner or a judge could decide to increase their stay.   “We’ve had situations like that. A lot of times it was the owner who decided to keep them in,” Wilson said. “A lot of times the problems are taken care of before the courts get involved.”  Although only one of the dogs attacked McSwain, the dogs’ caretaker wasn’t sure which one it was, so both were taken to the CARE facility.

How’s Gracie?
Frank McSwain of Basalt, Gracie McSwain’s grandfather, called the work done by doctors Tuesday at Children’s Hospital in Denver “a miracle.”
After she suffered a serious bite to the face on Monday, she was already headed home by Wednesday.
“The doctors, when they came out of surgery after three hours, they had such smiles on their faces,” he said. At first, McSwain said doctors contemplated letting his granddaughter’s face heal for a while, then using skin grafts later.  “But the second doctors said they wanted to operate instead,” he said.  “She’s been discharged and the family’s headed home. It’s a miracle, it really is.”

Ex-neighbor’s experiences
Jeff Kidd lived next to Jim Wagner and his wolf-hybrid dogs for 1 1/2 years. The dogs were part of his motivation to move two blocks down the street in February, he said.  Kidd and his wife, Brenda, have three kids. One goes to school with Gracie McSwain. There were “multiple problems” with Wagner’s dogs, he said.  “It was not only the barking, but the dogs were vicious,” he said. “They’d jump with their heads over the fence, growling. We’re not talking pit bulls here, these are wild animals.”

City officials were well aware that some neighbors were frightened of the dogs, but nothing was ever done, Kidd said. “We were told that unless they bite someone, there’s nothing they could do,” Kidd said. “This should have never happened. This should have been handled by the city and now this little girl is maimed.” Kidd said it’s common for people to cross the street to avoid being near the dogs when passing Wagner’s back yard.  His kids couldn’t play in their own back yard much of the time for fear that the dogs would escape and harm them, he said.

Breed banning
Neither the state of Colorado nor Glenwood Springs city law prohibits owning a wolf-hybrid dog, but that’s not from a lack of attention to the subject.

In 1997, the Colorado Legislature funded a study on whether the state should ban wolf-hybrid dogs. According to an article in the National Animal Interest Alliance’s Web site, the Colorado study found that the animals are covered under the state’s dangerous dog law and no additional regulations were needed.

“Most incidents of canine attacks involve irresponsible ownership, such as the lack of proper containment or the inability of a person to recognize potential signs of aggressive behavior,” the NAIA article said. “Every canine owner should be aware of the need to properly house, restrain, exercise, socialize and obedience train their canine companions.”

More recently, specific breed bans, many targeting pit bulls in cities along the Front Range, have been eliminated.  A new state law was signed by Gov. Bill Owens in April that prohibits local governments from banning specific breeds of dogs. The law also allows bite victims to file civil lawsuits to recover damages, even if it’s the dog’s first offense.  Denver City Council is currently challenging that new law.

DNA soup
Steve Wolfsong is a staff member at Wolves Offered Life and Friendship, or WOLF, located in Bellvue near Fort Collins. Although he loves wolves and wolf-hybrid dogs, Wolfsong said it’s his belief that they should not be pets.
“Basically, people getting a wolf hybrid tend to want a piece of the wild,” he said. “We believe they do not make good pets and they do not belong in people’s back yards. Not because they’re bad, horrible animals, but because they’re harder to train.”

He compared a wolf hybrid’s DNA makeup to a bucket of marbles. If the bucket has 75 percent red marbles and 25 percent black marbles, there’s no guarantee a handful of marbles will be all red.  “That’s kind of the way the DNA sequence makes these things up,” he said.  Using that logic, Wofsong said if a hybrid is 75 percent wolf and 25 percent dog — or vice versa — there’s no guarantee the animal will behave like either a wolf or a dog 100 percent of the time.

He guesses that Monday’s incident was either triggered by the dog’s property protection instinct or by fear. “Fear is the biggest trigger,” he said.
Wolfsong said WOLF is a sanctuary for wolves and wolf hybrids that were captured and raised or let go by their owners. The sanctuary normally accepts animals that have attacked, but it is full right now.  “We do take those types of animals, poodle-eaters, cat eaters, but we’re full.”



Official seeks investigation into banning wolf hybrids

Post Independent Writer
May 9, 2004
By Greg Massé

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Wolf-hybrid dogs soon could be canines non grata in Glenwood Springs.

On Thursday, City Councilman Dan Richardson asked city attorney Karl
Hanlon to look at whether wolf hybrids could be banned from the city.
His request came in response to the wolf-hybrid dog attack on 7-year-old
Gracie McSwain, which happened Monday evening in the dog's yard. McSwain is Richardson's niece.

Richardson said he's been doing some research on the hybrids since
McSwain was bitten. Richardson said he discovered there is no approved
rabies vaccination for wolf dogs. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, he's right.  "There are no rabies vaccines licensed for use in hybrids," the department's Rabies Prevention and Control Policy states.

A standard post-bite rabies observation period has never been
established, the policy states, so there's no assurance the vaccine
works. As a result, companies that produce the vaccine won't guarantee
it works in wolves and wolf hybrids, although the state health agency
considers it likely to work. "While there is no evidence of efficacy, given the biologic similarities between wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs, it is very probable that vaccination will result in antibody response," the department's policy states.

Despite this probability, even if a wolf or wolf-hybrid dog is given a
rabies vaccination shot, it is still officially considered non-vaccinated.
State health department epidemiologist John Pape said his department
recommends that any wolf hybrid that bites a person should either be
euthanized and tested for rabies, or given "an extended bite-observation
period" of 30 days. A domestic dog is normally given a 10-day observation period.

Meanwhile, Richardson called for requiring animal vaccinations within
the city limits. He also asked council to look into drafting a letter that backs the efforts of the Denver City Council's challenge to the new state law prohibiting local governments from banning specific-breeds of dogs. The state legislation, signed into law in April, is set to take effect July 1. No formal action was taken on either request.\


Owner of wolf-dog charged with failure to vaccinate

Greg Mass/garfield county correspondent
June 2, 2004

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Jim Wagner, the owner of the wolf-hybrid dog that bit a local girl on the face May 3, will be charged in connection with that

Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said after a nearly month long
investigation, he and city attorney Karl Hanlon made the decision to charge
Wagner with one count of having a vicious dog and three counts of failure to
vaccinate - one for each of Wagner's three dogs. Wagner was formally charged on Friday.

"The issue was we were trying to get our hands around the totality of the
circumstances and how the victim came to be where she was," Wilson said.

The failure-to-vaccinate citations were filed by the city despite the fact
that all of the three wolf-dogs were given rabies shots.

"Our understanding is that the manufacturer of the vaccine won't certify the
effectiveness of its product on the animals," Wilson said. "So it's our
stance that if the company that produces the vaccine won't certify it, we
don't consider it to be an effective vaccine."

Companies that manufacture rabies vaccines won't certify the vaccine's
effectiveness on wolf hybrids because of their biological differences.


      Hybrids or wolves? Versions differ in bitten-child case

      Greg Massé
      June 23, 2004

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Court documents reveal conflicting statements about whether the animal that bit 7-year-old Grace McSwain is a wolf hybrid or a full-bred wolf.  But Jim Wagner, the animal's owner, insists all three of his pets are wolf hybrids.

The court documents, which were released this week, also shed light onto the events leading to the bite.

McSwain suffered serious facial injuries May 3 when she was bitten in
the face while getting ready to take pictures of the animals for a school
project.   The animals were enclosed in a fenced area in Wagner's backyard, at  412 11th St., at the time of the attack.   McSwain, along with her mother, Chris McSwain, and sister, Devan McSwain, were on Wagner's porch near the fence when the bite occurred.

According to a Glenwood Springs police report, one of the three animals leaped up toward Grace McSwain without warning or provocation and bit her in the left side of her face.

According to witness statements and police reports on the incident,
both Wagner, 57, and the animals' caretaker, Lisa Ruoff, 32, originally told
police that the animal that bit McSwain is a full-bred wolf. That statement,
however, was later changed, the reports said.  "As I was reading the letter, I noticed a discrepancy in the letter from what I was being told by Lisa Ruoff," Glenwood Springs police officer Paul Pedersen wrote.

"Lisa Ruoff told me that the two dogs we took to the (Colorado Animal
Rescue) unit were full-bred wolves, and in her letter she states that the
two dogs are hybrid wolves. I had also talked to the owner of the dogs by
phone, who told me that the two dogs were full-bred wolves."

Ruoff was charged with a vicious dog violation on the night of the attack because she was taking care of three animals at the time. Wagner was
away on business at the time, and was later charged with one count of having a vicious dog and three counts of failure to vaccinate.  The animals had been given rabies shots, but the manufacturer of the shots does not guarantee its effectiveness on wolves or on wolf hybrids.

Events leading to attack

Ruoff's original written statement on the incident was given to police
on May 3, shortly after the attack.  She wrote that Chris McSwain and two of her kids came by Wagner's house "to see if they could take pictures of the wolves."

"I told them the wolves were not good with kids, but if they wanted to
come back after (the wolves) were done eating, they could take pictures from
the front gate," Ruoff wrote.   When the McSwains came back, Ruoff was talking on the phone, but she indicated "to go ahead and take pictures from the porch," the statement said.  "Within 30 seconds, they came screaming into the house 'Call 911.' I called 911 and placed a kitchen towel over the girl's face, which was bleeding. They then took the daughter to the hospital," Ruoff wrote.

Five days later, Ruoff dropped off a longer typewritten statement to
police, but in that statement, she referred to the animals as "hybrids."

Chris McSwain's written statement described the attack from her point
of view.  In it, she stated that after the animals were finished eating, she,
Grace and Devan came back to the house to try and get some pictures.  "We stopped approximately one to two feet from the fence and we were
discussing picture options. ... The wolves came up to the fence at a medium
to fast pace appearing interested, but not seeming aggressive or upset.

"Suddenly, and without any noise, one of the large, white wolves, the
one in front of me, jumped up and lunged with his head and neck over the top of the fence. His back half stayed behind the fence. I saw his right paw on Grace's left cheek and his snout was on her face. It appeared he was biting her. I pushed his paw back. The wolf went out of my sight," she wrote.

Two of Wagner's three animals, Zeus and Oscar, remained at Colorado
Animal Rescue in Spring Valley until last week, but have since been moved to a temporary home, Wagner said.

Although only one of the animals bit McSwain, two were originally taken to CARE because authorities were unable to determine which of them
attacked McSwain. Wagner's other dog still lives with him.



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