Photo by Jay Huff
Kendra Burkholder at council meeting
Pastor Ron Lauber's booking photo
Photo by Jay Huff
Sad and weary, Kendra Burkholder leaves the council meeting.
Photo by Google + (Nicole Fiechtner)
Nicole Fiechtner, 2011
A school teacher and a pastor recently came out on the short end of the stick when the long arm of the law cracked down on a young dog that was lost in a North Platte residential neighborhood. Broke and in need of companionship, the dog’s owner, Kendra Burkholder, went before the city council Dec. 13 to appeal a determination that her dog is dangerous.
The controversial decision was made by Animal Control Officer Nicole Fiechtner, who had been on the job about three months and told Burkholder that it was her first time dealing with a dangerous animal.
Burkholder disagreed with Fiechtner’s designation and appealed to the North Platte Animal Control Commission, but lost the appeal. Then Burkholder used her option to appeal to the city council.
Her dog is Jasmine, a year-and-a-half-old cross between a black lab, a pit bull and a boxer. Jasmine got loose Nov. 14 in the neighborhood of Tabor and Fifth.
Burkholder and Jasmine had just moved to the neighborhood, after hard times forced them to move into the basement of her pastor’s home.
They were there three days when a four-year-old child accidently let the dog out, Pastor Ron Lauber and wife Roxanne told the North Platte Animal Control Commission.
Ron Lauber wasn’t home at the time, but Roxanne helped round Jasmine up.
The ordeal led to trouble for Lauber. After he questioned Fiechtner and a police officer about the need to take the dog away, he was booked into jail, charged with obstruction of justice He ended up paying a $5,000 bond to get out.
The designation is also costly for Burkholder, who faces nearly $750 in fines and fees and has to adhere to strict conditions for housing and walking the dog for the rest of the dog’s life. That creates extra problems for her, because Burkholder is dealing with overwhelming medical bills and is basically out of money.
Amanda Marquette was walking her dogs in the neighborhood that afternoon when she ran into Jasimine.
“Jasmine came out of the alley and began following us,” Marquette wrote in a statement to Fiechtner. “She began circling us and I kept telling her to go away. She began to act aggressively and lunged at my dogs, jumping on the back of my 15-year-old Wheaten.”
Marquette had to kick Jasmine repeatedly to get her off her Wheaten, and still, Jasmine kept trying to get back at her dogs, she said.
“I put myself in between her and my dogs and kept telling her to go. She then began growling at me,” Marquette said.
According to Marquette, someone from the southeast corner of 5th and Tabor came to help and ended up chasing Jasmine, trying to catch her.
Marquette finished her walk and when she got home, the dog reappeared and again came towards her and her dogs. Again, she said she put herself in between.
Then a neighbor, Marie Parker, came over with her dog to try to help corral Jasmine.
Marquette warned Parker to stay back because the dog was aggressive, and she had no more said it than it lunged at Parker’s dog and jumped on its back. Parker repeatedly kicked Jasmine to get them apart, the women told officers.
Amanda’s husband Larry decided to call the police.
Parker said she saw some teenage girls and an older woman trying to catch a loose black dog – evidently Roxanne Lauber and her helpers.
“They informed me that it wasn’t their dog, but the owner was not home,” Parker said.
Parker said she “was an idiot and had my dog Charlie with me while trying to help these ladies. Consequently, when the loose dog got near, he came up to my dog. Another woman, not part of the chase, advised me to stay back, that this dog had a habit of attacking other dogs.”
“Then the dog attacked my dog and it took kicking to get it to run away,” she said. “It ran across the street where the people chasing it managed to catch it.”
When Ron Lauber got home, his wife told him what happened. He said it didn’t sound all that serious to him.
“It sounded like the dogs skirmished some, as dogs do,” he told the Bulletin.
Support for Jasmine
A resident of the area, J.C. Collins, stuck up for Burkholder and Jasmine. Collins told the animal control commission that the incident was circumstantial.
He noted that Jasmine was in a new location. He said there was considerable vehicle traffic that day, which he said has been proven to affect dogs.
Jasmine was freaking out and scared, but wasn’t dangerous, Collins said.
Danette Ditch, who lived next door to Burkholder before Burkholder moved, also told the commission that Jasmine never showed aggression toward her or her dogs when they lived next door.
She said her dogs and Jasmine played tug and shared toys.
When the commission voted, it unanimously upheld the dangerous dog designation.
Their decision surprised Lauber.
“I was completely surprised,” he told the Bulletin. “I didn’t hear either of the other dog owners say that Jasmine was dangerous.”
Pastor charged, arrested
After Jasmine was caught and inside the backyard fence, Fiechtner, accompanied by a police officer, came to get her.
Kendra wasn’t home yet.
Lauber said he and his wife asked some questions. He said they thought the officers were overreacting and were concerned that Jasmine might be put to sleep that same day.
They asked if the officers had talked to other witnesses, but the conversation was not productive.
“We didn’t get the sense that they were open to talking about whether the dog was dangerous,” he said. “There was not good communication.”
Lauber admits that he might have seemed a little too smart when he asked, “Is the dog guilty until proven innocent, then?”
Lauber said he was shocked to see Fiechtner put a noose around Jasmine’s neck and tighten it.
“She was choked,” he said. “I didn’t think there was a need for that.”
He said his questions were “deemed argumentative” and he was taken to jail.
Jasimine was gone when Burkholder got home, so she talked to everyone she could to find out what happened. She said the man who caught Jasmine said he scooped the dog up with no resistance.
According to procedure, Jasmine had to stay at the animal shelter until Burkholder could pay a $250 fee, plus boarding costs. Also, to get her dog back, Burkholder would have had to sign a statement agreeing that her dog was dangerous.
She said she didn’t agree. She decided to appeal the designation.
While the appeal went forward, she visited Jasmine often, staying inside the dog’s individual kennel at the shelter for 30 minutes or so each time she visited.
Burkholder, who is in her seventh year of teaching second-grade at Hall Elementary school, told the council that she is living in the pastor’s basement because she was badly injured when a propane bottle exploded.
She said overwhelming medical bills caused her to lose her home.
“To be quite honest, I am homeless and I have no money,” she said. “My pastor has been kind enough to allow me and my dog to live in his basement for now.”
Burkholder said has had Jasmine for a year and a half, since she was a puppy.
“She’s always slept with me while I was recovering from burns,” she said. “She’s just a great dog.”
Burkholder told the council that the Jasmine reacted to strange people, animals and the new neighborhood, as dogs often do. She said Jasmine was chased and there was much more traffic on the streets than she was used to, so she got scared.
Burkholder offered to get training for Jasmine to satisfy the animal control officers.
“I’m a teacher and I love kids. I am all about the safety of others,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to endanger children, or people, or any other dogs.”
Burkholder totally agrees that people should be able to walk their dogs on the sidewalks.
“I’m willing to take steps to train her,” she told the council.
Police Chief Mike Swain restated the contents of Marquette’s and Parker’s written reports that had been submitted to the council, and made a few comments about the aggressiveness of pit bulls.
The council went back over some of the details of the reports. Councilman Jim Carman posed a fresh question to Swain.
“How many of these potentially dangerous dog calls do you get in a year?”
“Three or four,” Swain answered.
When Fiechtner addressed the council, she said, “I want you to be aware that these attacks were unprovoked and I don’t feel that you can, even with training, make a dog not dangerous toward other animals.”
“This dog is not friendly to me,” she said. “I can’t even walk by the cage — and we are not allowed in the cage.”
Councilman Andrew Lee challenged Fiechtner. He told Fiechtner that her statement contradicted a statement by Animal Control Supervisor Kerri Ross, who told the Animal Control Commission that Jasmine showed no aggressive behavior during her 30-days at the animal shelter.
“It has not growled at me, but will not come toward me, and cowers at the back of the cage,” Fiechtner replied.
“That is fear, not aggression,” Councilman Larry Campbell said. “Of course this dog is afraid of you. You are the one that put it in jail.”
No evidence was presented that the other dogs may have also acted aggressively.
When the time came, the vote was 7-0 to uphold the decision that Jasmine is potentially dangerous. Councilman Brook Baker was absent.
“We have to support our Animal Control Officers and the ordinance is in black and white,” Carman said, expressing the apparent consensus of the council.
Burkholder said she was totally shocked.
“Jasmine never bit anyone,” she said.
Thanks largely to donations from others, including $200 from a woman she didn’t know and $75 from a man she didn’t know, Burkholder paid the fees to get Jasmine out of the animal shelter.
She faces more costs, including a fine and the cost of having a tattoo or microchip on Jasmine to permanently identify her. She is also planning to pay for Jasmine’s obedience classes.
She expects total costs to add up to $750.
She must post a warning sign for children, and put a muzzle on Jasmine every time she is out of the enclosure for the rest of the dog’s life.
Now, Burkholder wants to change the city ordinance, to add a classification for dogs that are at low-risk to offend and requiring them to attend obedience school.
Currently, the city ordinance defines a potentially dangerous dog as:
“Any dog that, when unprovoked, inflicts bites on a human or domestic animal…or any dog with a known propensity… to cause injury or otherwise threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals.”
Burkholder said the definition doesn’t consider that a dog, frightened, alone and accidently on the loose in a strange neighborhood might skirmish with other dogs and need a little more training.
She plans to set up a facebook page to talk to supporters. And, she is highly interested in talking to anyone who could help her get the city ordinance changed.