Lawmakers ask Aurora to shelve plans to euthanize suspected wolf hybrid Capone

Author: Ernest Luning - March 17, 2017 - Updated: March 17, 2017

Capone, pictured in this undated photo provided by his owners, the Abbato family of Aurora, was impounded by Aurora Animal Services on Feb. 24, 2017, and is under investigation as a suspected wolf-dog hybrid. (Courtesy Tracy Abbato)
Capone, pictured in this undated photo provided by his owners, the Abbato family of Aurora, was impounded by Aurora Animal Services on Feb. 24, 2017, and is under investigation as a suspected wolf-dog hybrid. (Courtesy Tracy Abbato)

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 Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


  • L Adams

    March 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    You can’t take a family pet of 11 years and release him into the wild, that’s animal cruelty.

    If there is no history of aggressive behavior in 11 years, the dog poses no threat to society. Please let him go home. I’m sure he misses his family as much as they miss him.


    • Nikki Lyster

      March 19, 2017 at 10:53 am

      Who in the hell cares what kind of dog he is? He has obviously lived with that family for what 11 years and hasn’t bit anyone or caused any trouble. It would be different if someone caught a full grown wolf and trtripto take it home. Some “lawmakers” seem to step in just because when things are not their business or their concern. I hope that poor dog gets to go home to his family, where he deserves to be. And I hope that judge has better sense then to take a family member away from its family after all these years regardless of what he ends up being. Does it matter really? Why?


  • Dean

    March 17, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Capones future as a reformed K9 with a criminal record should be something the maxim leader of Colorado to investigate and appropriately intervene. Governor Hickenlooper with the simple order could have Capone released, and give him a full pardon. Nathen Dunlap, despite his proven crimes of spontaneous murders, and sentenced to death, the Governor expressed concern and seized the political opportunity to use his sway, with a temporary reprieve. Why doesn’t Capone, deserve at least a little help from the big house for his false imprisonment in Aurora lock-up.?


    • Bill

      March 19, 2017 at 7:07 am

      AGREE! Great observation.


  • JJ

    March 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    All dogs are descendents of wolves, hence all dogs are wolf hybrids. Clearly, this is a family pet and hopefully the court will see that.


  • Laura

    March 18, 2017 at 10:57 am

    And that is not a wolf or a wolf hybrid. Why don’t they go do some real criminal solving problems And leave his family alone?


  • Leslie

    March 18, 2017 at 11:59 am

    You call you guys animal control you have no clue about capone.I sure would not live in that town, they are assholes.


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  • Julie

    March 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Capone was adopted from the Adams County Animal Shelter. They were told he was a German shepherd and therefore this should not be an issue. If they have a problem they should take it up with the shelter that adopted him out. Return Capone to his family. Keeping apart from them is cruel to both the dog and the family.


  • Davida Margolin

    March 18, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I hope the restraints and reliability of DNA testing are considered.

    “They don’t actually test for ‘wolf’ DNA,” Addams said. “They’ll just report, ‘This dog does not match any breeds,’ which could mean it’s one of the breeds they don’t have samples for, an unusual mutt, a mutant, or a wolf, who knows? It’s possible to send a DNA sample out to a research laboratory for testing, I’m sure, but the research labs don’t (yet) have a really wide database of many, many wolves — usually they have a few individuals from local populations.”


  • Michele

    March 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    There is no wolf in this dog. So many people look at dogs with shepherd, husky, or malamute in them and immediately think “wolf,” when none exists. He looks like every other shepherd mix I’ve ever seen. And nothing like any wolfdog I’ve ever met–and I’ve met several. He needs to go back home to his family where he belongs.


  • Suzette

    March 18, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    This is animal cruelty!!! Give him back to his loving family!!


  • mary

    March 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm Hello? Please send them this link on GSDs. They need the education. Hope there are some legislaters with brains to undo this farce and give this dog back to his family. Pure idiocy


  • Dawn

    March 18, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Docile family pet. Let him remain with his family. Don’t be a Barney Fife.


    • Amara Bleau

      March 19, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      Even Barney Fife would eventually “get it.” He would make sure Capone got back to his family AND educate the town folk after his mistake!


  • Darlene

    March 18, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    y’all need to let the dog go home they have invested the time and money into the dog that is not right or an option what y’all are doing. it’s part of the family. even if it’s a wolf hybrid they are very intelligent dogs as long as they are not abused to make them aggressive just like any other animal. I hope they get dog back



    March 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    This family had no intention to harbor a wolf hybrid. In their good citizenship , this family adopted a pet from an appropriate county shelter. 11 years of being a fine family pet with children and another dog as well, isn’t that proof that this is a good dog? Please remember, citizens are not made for the law. Laws are made for citizens. There has been no evidence that this dog has done anything but contribute love and companionship to our citizens. No malice of any kind here.


  • Lori

    March 18, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Having owned Wolf Hybrids in the past. They do not do well as house pets. They also have a short dull coarse coat, not shiny. This is a German Shepherd Cross. Let the family have their dog back and investigate that H.S! Wolf Hybrids also howl and I mean howl! I bet this dog barks!
    his dog and especially with his age needs to be sent back to his owners.


  • Gwen Hood

    March 18, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    This is such an outrage !!!! Very relieved to see authorities with common sense and hopefully compassion. He is a senior dog. He has hurt NO ONE. He looks like a German shepherd mix. Return this family member to his family. You are wasting precious time for this senior dog and his family !!!! DO THE RIGHT THING PEOPLE !!!!!!!


  • Kay Lorraine

    March 18, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    They are charging these people with several high crimes. How dastardly. No rabies vaccination, no dog license. Are the two that these legislators need to address.
    1. Dog licensing was put in to force peopleto prove they vaccinated their dogs for rabies.
    2. Canine strain Rabies was erradicated from the United States in the earl 70’s.

    This antiquated law has no more justification for even being on the books and certanly does not need to be used as a club by overzealous ac officers to browbeat and bully people.

    These legislators would be a good set to start moving this forward.

    Dog owners of the US spend unbelievable millions of dollars immunizing their dogs for a disease that no longer exists. That is disgraceful.


  • Julie Dombek

    March 19, 2017 at 12:10 am

    Leave the dog to go home. It is unthinkable what this city is doing to this family.
    Wolf’s are beautiful and Never should be matter with a domestic dog.
    Not fair to either…But there is damage being done THIS animal will never forget.


  • Chelsea

    March 19, 2017 at 12:18 am

    The DNA tests aren’t accurate, even the Davis test which is supposedly the most accurate for finding wolf ancestry in dogs. It is known to throw false positives, especially for more northern breeds (eg. huskies and malamutes) and should not be the basis on which they decide this dog’s fate. They should be contacting wolfdog experts, REAL wolfdog experts, who have worked with wolfdogs and know what to look for when it comes to looks and behaviors. I’m just casually interested in identifying wolfdogs, but here’s what stands out to me about Capone:

    *He was trusted to be around small children, even sleeping with them at night. (Wolfdogs of a decent content are normally not trusted alone with small children, because a wolf’s natural prey drive can make it dangerous.)
    *ACO claimed the dog was aggressive. Wolfdogs are actually very skittish in nature, as their wolf ancestry leads to a greater fear of humans. They’re more likely to jump out your second-story window than deal with an intruder in their own home. Shepherds, on the other hand, are known to face off with a stranger that they’re wary of instead of running away. Police use them for a reason; they’re fiercely loyal and pretty brave.
    *Domed head, not angular at all. 100% domestic trait.
    *Round eyes, not almond-shaped like a wolf’s even a little bit.
    *Big, pointed ears that aren’t well-furred (wolf ears are actually small and round, and quite fluffy).
    *Small rounded paws, no elongated toes like a wolf.
    *Flat-black coat (ignoring the greying and white due to aging). The fur is not banded like a wolf’s coat is. Even an all-black wolf will have multiple tones and colors to their pelt throughout the pelt, usually with each hair having multiple colors (banded).
    *Even furring; no apparent cape/”mane” to the pelt.
    *Curled tail (wolf tails do not curl). Also feathered, not well-furred like a wolf’s tail. Looks a lot like my GSD mix’s tail, actually.
    *Wide chest.

    This isn’t the best photo for phenotyping, but literally nothing about this dog says “maybe he’s part wolf”. Wolfdogs look wolffy, even if they are low content.

    Meanwhile, I’ve owned a lab mix (labrador retriever x rottweiler), and currently own a GSD mix (German shepherd x golden retriever). This dog reminds me a lot of my old lab mix; same exact body type, same exact tail, same exact fur coloring minus the white chest-spot (but my GSD mix has that same white chest spot), same exact greying as he got older in the same exact spots, same exact coat/fur type, just overall this looks like you put a different head on my old dog’s body and put a little extra white on the chest, haha. The head reminds me of my current dog, who has a decent amount of shepherd influence when it comes to his face. I can easily see this dog being a shepherd x lab mix as the original shelter claimed.

    I fear for the safety and future of this dog should the test throw a false positive. I hope the family gets their dog back safely.


  • Becky

    March 19, 2017 at 6:14 am

    There truly has to be more important issues to worry about there, rather than try to put down a pet that has not shown signs of aggression, plays with kids & dogs and has been a family pet for 10 years! Let that poor dog go home to his family. Why put this family and the dog thru this, it’s ridiculous. Go after the animal abusers, the ones that harm and neglect animals, those animals need saved, not one that sleeps with a young girl every night!!!


  • Anthony Agresta

    March 19, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Please go to Leave a 1 star review of this horrible place. Make their rating plummet even further and hit them where it hurts!


  • Linda Robb

    March 19, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    I was unable to sign the petition, but fully support allowing this beautiful dog being returned to the family that loves him. How cruel to even think about killing him.. I have had wolf hybrids in the past and they were gentle, loving pets. I never had any problems with them with anyone or anything.


    • Linda Robb

      March 19, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      I fully support returning this beautiful dog to the family that loves him. It is cruel and misguided to even think about killing him


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