The Serrano-Abbato Family in Aurora had their family dog of 10 years taken away after city officials decided it may be a wolf hybrid.
EDIT: DNA test results released late-Sunday prove that the dog is not a wolf hybrid.
In the City of Aurora, it is illegal to own a wolf or a wolf hybrid. In late February, the Serrano-Abbato family’s dog, Cappone, jumped the fence and escaped from their property. Aurora Animal Control picked Cappone up and brought him to the pound. However, when the family tried to collect their pet from the pound, they were turned away.
Aurora Animal Control Officers suspected Cappone of being a “wolf hybrid” and refused to return the pet until a DNA test came back.
Every single dog is technically a wolf hybrid. Humans domesticated wolves tens of thousands of years ago. One of the earliest record of domesticated dogs comes from an archeological dig in Oberkassel, Germany. Archeologists found the skeletal remains of a man, woman, and dog entombed together. The remains were dated to be over 14,000 years old, which is the oldest evidence of domesticated dogs. Scientists used the skeletal remains to reconstruct the family’s pet (below).
According to Colorado Law, it is legal to own any animal as long as it is at least one percent domesticated. However in Aurora, it is illegal to own any wild-animal hybrid. The Aurora statute does not specify what constitutes a dog and what constitutes a wolf. This is where it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two. A DNA test cannot tell how much of an animal is “wolf” and how much is “dog.”
Aurora’s DNA test is being performed by the the University of California-Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Becky Ewalt-Evans, who works at the lab, warns against expecting wolf hybrid DNA tests to definitively prove anything.
“Wolves and dogs are fairly closely related,” she explains. “Fixed genetic differences (that allow determination of origin) between wolves and dogs are relatively few.”
DNA tests have their limitations. Because every breed of dog stems from wild wolves, DNA tests can only pinpoint whether a dog is three-or-fewer generations removed from a 100 percent wild wolf. But it becomes even more difficult to make a determination if a dog’s great-grandparent was a wolf-hybrid. Since the Aurora ordinance doesn’t define “wolf hybrid”, any dog’s DNA test result would technically be incriminating.
The family’s lawyers are optimistic that this ambiguity will help them win their case.
“The statute doesn’t necessarily set forth what constitutes a hybrid animal in any specificity, so we’ve got experts that are going to say that, you know, a lot of dogs could have two percent wolf in them, so what constitutes an actual wolf?” Attorney Aaron Acker said in a statement. The ordinance “just says wolf — period and a hybrid animal. That could be construed from anything that has one percent or .01 percent to 99 percent — it’s pretty unspecific.”
Animal control officers made the determination that Cappone was part-wolf after examining his mannerisms, behavior, and physical characteristics. Acker argues that this is how the City of Aurora has decided to enforce breed restrictions. Animal Control Officers, regardless of their level of expertise, are allowed to take one look at an animal and decide to hold it if the pet looks/acts anything like a restricted breed. Then they charge the pet’s owner $15 a day until a formal determination is made.
If the City of Aurora is able to convince a judge that Cappone is a wolf hybrid, he could be put down.
Tito Serrano, Cappone’s owner, has been charged with five counts, owning an aggressive or dangerous animal; owning a wild, exotic or dangerous animal; having an animal run at-large; keeping an animal without proper registration tags; and keeping an animal without rabies inoculation. Mr. Serrano has pled not guilty to all charges.
Editor’s Note: On Sunday, the DNA test results came back and proved that Cappone was not a wolf hybrid. That means that stretching back three generations, there was no wolf in the dog’s family line. These test results will be presented to a judge on Wednesday. The City of Aurora will likely release the dog back to its owners, however the vagueness of the wolf hybrid statute does not specify minimum test results necessary for release.
The Serrano-Abbato family is still set to appear before a judge on Wednesday, March 22.