ARL Statement RE: Des Moines Court Case, Canine 'Pinky'

posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016 in News

Update 4/17/18: 

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa is committed to our mission of promoting animal welfare, strengthening the human-animal bond, and preventing the overpopulation of pets.

Part of fulfilling this mission includes serving as a vendor to provide Animal Control services for some local governments, including the city of Des Moines.

Recently, a city of Des Moines court case about a dog named “Pinky” who injured a cat, has been in the news so we wanted to talk about our role in this story. The ARL has never been a party to the court case. Our only involvement was to hold Pinky for the city as part of our Animal Control contract with them.

Once we learned that this would be a lengthy court battle between the city and Pinky’s owner, we elected to bring Pinky to our main location, like we do for all dogs held for the city during lengthy court cases. Our main location, in contrast to the city’s location, is state of the art, complete with better air exchange, noise reduction, and lighting in modern kennels as well as 3 dog park areas, 2 indoor dog training rooms, and an indoor dog agility area. Our dog behavior and enrichment staff are also at this location so they can work with dogs we are holding for the city. During Pinky’s stay at the ARL, she continued to get daily enrichment to keep her mind and body happy and healthy.

Lengthy court cases are hard on the animals involved, but the ARL does everything possible to ensure that their stay with us is the best it can be. Often, dogs held for court cases form a bond with their staff caretakers, as has been the case with Pinky.

On Monday, April 16, the city of Des Moines decided to release Pinky to her owner’s care during the appeal process. The ARL followed the city’s instructions and released Pinky at that time. We hope that this means that Pinky will now be living in a house and hanging out on the couch watching TV – and all of the other things dogs get to do with their owners. For that, we could not be happier.

There has been some misinformation circulating regarding a dog named “Pinky”, so we wanted to explain the ARL’s involvement in this case and our enrichment protocol for dogs held in our care during lengthy court cases.

The City of Des Moines declared the dog “Dangerous”, a declaration that comes after a bite/s happen to humans or other animals, and mandates euthanasia per the city’s existing animal ordinances (it is a city declaration per the city ordinance – not an ARL declaration). The case is still open in the court system.

Per the city’s contract with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL), the dog has been in our care during this time. We are ONLY the holding facility for this dog during the court case. We do not have any say in the case or the outcome for the dog. The policy to not allow the owner of Pinky to visit her was made by Sgt. Jim Butler, Chief Humane Officer for the city of Des Moines.

We develop a customized enrichment plan for each dog that is in our care for lengthy court cases. Pinky’s plan, in part, is as follows:

  • Long-Term Enrichment: Dogs receive enrichment care in several different forms while at the ARL. These forms are done consistently and routinely to ensure the dog’s mental/physical needs are being met. All forms of enrichment increase as necessary.
  • Olfactory Stimulation: Essential Oils are sprayed twice a day to help provide a different scent in addition to helping to reduce stress.
  • Auditory Stimulation: All animal holding areas play “Through a Dog’s Ear” (a highly researched collection of classical piano arrangements that have shown to induce calmness in 70 percent of shelter dogs) from 7 am-shelter closing time.
  • Visual Stimulation: Dogs go out daily to the outside enclosures or the large horse arena, as well as the indoor dog training center for a change in scenery. This is completely supervised by a member of the Dog Behavior Department.
  • Tactile Stimulation: Physical handling is performed daily with petting, scratching, and rubbing. Frequent baths are also performed.
  • Mental Stimulation: Food is presented in different food dispensers (KONGS, KONG Wobblers, etc.). Stuffed KONGS are also given with different flavors (peanut butter, pumpkin, etc.) and serve as both a snack and a form of mental enrichment. Pinky has also participated in our office foster program and will frequently stay in a trained behavior staff’s office for up to 2-3 hours at a time.
  • Physical Stimulation: The dog is supervised during time in outside enclosures or large horse arena as well as indoor training center. During that time, games of fetch with tennis balls are played with Pinky and she regularly goes on .5-1 mile walks with a member of the Dog Behavior Team.
  • Play Stimulation: Toys are present in the kennel daily and switched out frequently to help prevent boredom.
  • Social Stimulation: Human interaction occurs daily with twice feedings, cleanings, and when physically handled outside of kennel.
  • Training: The “Click to Calm” methodology of positive reinforcement training utilizes the science of clicker training to effectively and creatively develop strategies that will help calm and manage the stress of aroused dogs. This program is designed specifically for any dog that is uncomfortable around certain types of stimuli: the most common being people and other dogs.

The health and welfare of animals in our care is always our number one priority. And that is where the ARL’s involvement with this case begins and ends. Because of that, questions specific to this case can be found in the police report by calling the Des Moines Police Department’s records office at 283-4824 (case #16-8938).

Update 1/30/17:  There has been some recent confusion about why the ARL has been represented by legal counsel during court proceedings involving dogs that have been declared "dangerous animals" by the City of Des Moines.  The ARL has been named as a defendant in several of these lawsuits and therefore must appear in court.  The ARL is a separate party from the City of Des Moines in these cases.

Update 5/16/17: On April 17, 2016, the District Court entered an Order upholding the "dangerous dog" declaration by the City of Des Moines. Because Pinky is still subject to a "dangerous dog" declaration that has been upheld on appeal, the ARL cannot release her.

Update 5/23/17: On May 20, 2017, the District Court entered an Order rejecting several positions asserted by Plaintiff Dianna Helmers regarding "dangerous dog" declarations under the Des Moines City Code.

The District Court ruled that several of her legal arguments were "without merit" and declined to modify its prior ruling upholding the "dangerous dog" declaration by the City of Des Moines.

It also ruled that the City is "legally holding Pinky," pending the ongoing appeal of the "dangerous dog" declaration.

The ARL will continue to hold Pinky, as required by the City Code. In the interim, the ARL cannot release Pinky since she is subject to a "dangerous dog" declaration pursuant to the City Code.

The ARL is not a party to this case.

Order 0411717
Order 052017

Update 10/17/17:  Scott Sanders, City Manager for the City of Des Moines released a letter saying in part, "Since February 2017, the City has attempted to resolve this matter by offering to send Pinky to an out-of-state no-kill shelter for potential adoption.  This proposal has been rejected several times by Ms. Helmers as she continues the litigation.  This is the sole cause of the delay and the sole cause for the dog continuing to be confined.  Should the city prevail [in court], we still hope to unilaterally carry out this offer."  Full Scott Sanders Letter

Update 12/22/17:  There have been many inaccurate and misleading comments on social media regarding the ARL's role in the ongoing litigation concerning Pinky, including accusations that Pinky was seized by the City of Des Moines "illegally" and has been kept in "solitary confinement" at the ARL during the appeal of the "dangerous animal" declaration.  

The City of Des Moines declared Pinky a "dangerous animal" pursuant to Des Moines City Code 18-196 after Pinky was involved in a bite incident that seriously injured a cat on March 27, 2016, including "deep cuts on her body that required at least two surgical procedures to repair and included approximately 36 stapes to close her skin wounds," resulting in veterinary bills of over $3,000. (Order of April 17, 2017, pp. 12-13). Pinky's owner at the time of the bite incident transferred his ownership to Diann Helmers, a long-time critic of the ARL who operates Agape Fosters, Inc. Ms. Helmers appealed the "dangerous animal" declaration regarding Pinky. An administrative hearing officer upheld the "dangerous animal" declaration. Ms. Helmers requested review of the hearing officer's decision by the District Court for Polk County on a "writ of certiorari." (Polk County Case No. CVCV050397). On April 17, 2017, the District Court issued an Order concluding that substantial evidence supported the "dangerous animal" declaration and that Pinky met the City Code definition of a "dangerous" dog. (Order of April 17, 2017, p. 14). The writ of certiorari filed by Helmers was therefore denied. On May 20, 2017, the District Court issued another Order denying a request by Helmers to remove Pinky from the ARL during an appeal and concluding that her arguments that Des Moines City Code 18-59 has been declared "unconstitutional" is "without merit." (Order of May 20, 2017, pp. 1-4). On July 17, 2017, the District Court issued another Order, stating, once again, that "the City's dangerous dog declaration and continued custody of Pinky was lawful." (Order of July 17, 2017, p. 1-3). Ms. Helmers has appealed the District Court's rulings regarding the "dangerous animal" declaration to the Iowa Supreme Court. Pinky is still in long-term impoundment at the ARL, as required by the Des Moines City Code. (Des Moines City Code 18-202(e) provides: "Any animal which is alleged to be dangerous and which is under impoundment or quarantine shall not be released to the owner, but shall continue to be held at the expense of the owner pending the outcome of the hearing."

The ARL has developed an enrichment program for dogs placed in long-term impoundment, due to appeals of "dangerous animal" declarations by the City of Des Moines, which can be viewed above.

Order 071717

April 4, 2018: Press release from the city of Des Moines