DENVER — A man has been formally charged with animal cruelty after police found an emaciated dog in a small cage inside a filthy Denver apartment, an arrest warrant states.
William Vincent Vernon, 31, was charged on Wednesday in connection to this crime. His first advisement is scheduled for March 2.
The charges stem from April 3, 2020 when, shortly after 9 a.m., Denver police officers performed a welfare check on an apartment along the 10700 block of E. Dartmouth Avenue in Denver after reports came in about a foul odor that had been getting worse over the previous week.
When police arrived, they met with the complex's manager, who said they could tell the odor was coming from a specific apartment, according to the arrest warrant. The manager said they had tried to contact the tenant of the apartment, Vernon, but could not connect with him.
Once an officer reached the apartment unit, "the smell was so bad, he believed that it was possible that someone had died inside the apartment," according to the arrest warrant. Nobody answered the door and maintenance staff had to drill out the lock.
The responding officer wrote in a report that the apartment was "trashed with numerous health violations," and had rotting food on the floor. It hadn't been cleaned in weeks or months.
"During the search, I observed a cage in the corner of the apartment, which was in the living room," the officer wrote. "Inside the cage, I observed a black and white dog, not moving, but standing up. I had to get closer because the dog appeared deceased. I noticed the dog was not deceased, but unable to sit down, due to all the feces inside the cage and the cage being too small."
The officer also noted that the dog was malnourished, distressed and shaking.
The rest of the apartment was empty. The officer called animal control.
Once an animal control officer arrived, she found five padlocks on the cage. She and her partner decided to take the whole cage out of the apartment and take the dog to the Denver Animal Shelter to safely get it out of the cage so it could be treated, according to the arrest warrant.
There, the dog was identified as a 3-year-old pit bull. The animal control officer said on a scale of 1-9 for health, she rated the dog as a 1.5 because it did not have any fat and she could feel its ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones. She said the dog fell down several times while being examined by veterinarians, who drew blood to ensure the emaciation wasn't due to an underlying metabolic or endocrine disease, according to the arrest warrant. A district attorney requested a search warrant for the results of the blood test, which was signed off by a judge. The dog's microchip listed an owner who was not Vernon.
The animal control officer said based on the waste and empty bowls around the kennel, she believed the dog may have been kept in the kennel for two to three weeks without food or water. It had been eating trash from around its kennel using a small opening in the cage, according to the arrest warrant.
When officers went to leave a copy of the warrant and a notice of impoundment at the apartment complex, the tenant was home. He said the dog was his friend's and then ran from the police, according to the arrest warrant.
On April 6, 2020, a detective spoke with the person who had originally called police to report the odor from the apartment. The caller said she believed the dog was owned by a woman who lived in the same building and that the woman used the dog as an emotional support animal. Sometime in the fall of 2019, Denver police went to that unit to apprehend a fugitive and the dog escaped from the apartment, she told police. The apartment's office ended up locating the dog but could not track down his owner for a few days, until the woman came to claim the dog. It was returned to her. The 911 caller told police she believed the woman and Vernon had been spending time together and that was why the dog was in his apartment, according to the arrest warrant.
However, two days after this interview, police received a different call from a man who said he was the actual owner of the dog.
The man said he had lost his dog "a while back" and had put up fliers to try to find him, but to no avail. He said he remained hopeful because the dog was microchipped, according to the arrest warrant. On April 3, he received a call from the microchip company about the dog's location. The man told police he did not know Vernon.
Police received an email the following day, April 9, 2020, from a veterinarian with more details on the dog's condition.
The report included the following information:
- The dog was an intact 3-year-old male American pit bull terrier
- He was caked in malodorous feces and urine
- Before examination, he was bathed to remove the excrement from his fur
- He was quiet but alert and responsive during the exam
- He was emaciated and weighed 41.5 pounds (ideal weight is 55-60 pounds)
- His ribs, spine and hips were clearly prominent, and he had severe muscle wasting
- He had multiple skin ulcerations and his skin was inflamed
- He had moderate to severe swelling in both pelvic limbs, most likely due to restricted circulation
- He was put on oral antibiotics for his wounds, a pain medication, and bland gastrointestinal food
- He ate and drank the small amount that was initially provided to him (it was small in the beginning to avoid refeeding syndrome), and has had an excellent appetite in the days afterward
- His blood work results included low protein, anemia, low calcium, and more that was consistent with lack of nutritional intake and starvation. It ruled out underlying systemic diseases
A probable cause warrant was then issued for Vernon's arrest for the charge of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Vernon remained at-large until this month, when Denver police learned he was being held in Aurora, according to the district attorney's office.
Once the dog was in good condition, it was reunited with his owner. The district attorney's office said he is doing "extremely well with his recovery."
On Wednesday, prosecutors announced Vernon was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, a class 6 felony.