Earlier this month employees working for the city of Aurora in Colorado learned two lessons that government officials around the country are learning the hard way. First, it’s not fun in the long run to mess with animal activists. Second, social media makes messing with animal activists even less fun.
The story started when Rachel and Keith Keremes were out of the country on their honeymoon. They received an angry, threatening call from a neighbor accusing one of the Keremes' Huskies, Nika, of killing a pet rabbit. The next ten days proved that government bureaucrats think they are untouchable--untouchable, that is, until animal lovers from around the world learn of their misdeeds through social media.
On Friday, May 2, 2014, city officials condemned Nika to death for killing the rabbit despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. The Keremes only had until close of business on Monday to take action to halt the execution.
Keith says Monday started by heading to the shelter to be sure Nika had not been killed over the weekend. They spoke with Jackie Ehmann, the Animal Control Supervisor.
“We called our attorney and put him on the phone with Jackie. He ensured Nika’s safety and informed her of the appeal we would be filing. We went in the kennel and saw Nika who was so excited she was doing laps in her cage. I promised her and Rachel that she would not die,” Keith says.
Next they headed to the Aurora courthouse to file an appeal. Then they went to speak with the Assistant to the City Attorney, George Zierk. Fox, ABC and other news outlets were there to cover the story.
“We sat down with George who had no clue that we had discovered evidence about the situation. Our attorney argued that it is unfair for the city to bully a working-class citizen. Justice should not only be for those who have money.
“Mr. Zierk mentioned that Nika and Ilya had been in the yard FOUR times, as stated by the neighbor. Rachel and I had no idea when our neighbor would have told him that. It was the first time we had heard it,” says Keith.
Zierk insisted that Nika stay out of Aurora but mentioned that he didn’t want to put her down nor did he want the media coverage. He said the judge would drop the charges if the Keremes agreed to move Nika out of the city.
The Keremes say that the judge, who was the same judge in the original court date, said that she was glad they came to an agreement to save Nika. She also mentioned the social media campaign.
Prior to that Monday, Mile High Husky Rescue (MHHR) offered to give Nika a place to live in case she was unable to go home. MHHR is a 501(c)3 and has save about 200 dogs to date.
The court agreed to let Tara from MHHR pick Nika up and take her to a foster home. She will stay there until the Keremes are able to take her out of the city.
Nika will be attending some training classes to help relieve and/or positively focus some of her puppy energy. She is slowly getting acclimated to living with so many other Huskies, but the Keremes think she will get the hang of it.
The Keremes can visit her just about whenever they want, and both plan on doing some charity work with Tara. Once they pay for all the expenses associated with the legal case, the remaining donations received will go to her program.
Rachel and Keith say they adore the rescue. While not thrilled about the situation, they say they couldn’t trust anyone in this situation any more than MHHR.
When asked what this has done to open their eyes, Keith responded, “The laws in Aurora make equality very difficult. The Animal Control Officers have unlimited power concerning the animals. As in our case with Officer McHugh, owners can be threatened with court dates and fines if they do not produce the animals. He stated that he could come on our property to get Ilya, and made no mention to a warrant
“He was able to write six citations, (all but one were dropped) and even added one 5 days after the event when we put the paperwork in our name. Officer McHugh testified that Nika has a ‘tremendous prey drive’ and she would ‘definitely get through the fence’ regardless of our attempts to keep her in, yet he was unable to state that Nika and Ilya showed NO AGGRESSION towards him.
“I find it hard to believe that he knows so much negative about the dogs, yet wouldn’t even tell the truth concerning simple character questions. This is obvious bias and shows that the City only listened to the neighbor’s story before they made a decision.
“I have a petition that addresses many of these concerns. It will be sent to everyone in the chain of command of the Animal Control Division. Jackie, who has spent only two months at the shelter, has also told us that she wants many things changed. We hope she means it.”
Although they are making the best of a bad situation, Keith says he did not realize how difficult it would be on the dogs to be separated. “Ilya plays a lot less and has been eating infrequently. Nika shows anxiety around the other huskies except when Ilya seems to be there with her. The two were inseparable prior to the event and now it seems like it might take a while before things get better.”
Rachel will likely head to school in Ohio and live with Nika until Keith is transferred or his enlistment is over. They say they will all be back together when the time is right.