After seven years in isolated custody pending an appeal of a court-order that he be euthanized, incarcerated Staffordshire bull terrier Niko was put to death on Thursday, Albemarle County officials announced Friday.
The announcement that the nine-year-old dog Niko had been killed was met with anger by supporters and sadness by the Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, known as CASPCA, which housed the dog during his incarceration.
Dozens of members of a "Prayer’s [sic] for Niko/Niko Strong" Facebook group with over 9,000 members posted their condolences to Stacy and their anger at the decision Friday, some using the hashtag #justice4niko.
"If any good should come from Niko’s situation, advocate for [laws] to change so no dog ever goes [through] what Niko did ever again," one group member posted.
According to a press release from CASCPA, the organization opposed the decision and was not involved in euthanizing Niko.
According to CASPCA’s statement, state law provides limited options for disposal of a companion animal. The choices are to delivering the dog to a new owner or to kill it with the animal control officer being the ultimate decision-making power.
CASPCA said Albemarle County proposed two options. The organization could house Niko permanently or the dog would be put to death.
"The SPCA gave serious consideration to the option of housing Niko permanently, particularly since he was doing well in the SPCA’s care, but ultimately determined that this option was not permitted under Virginia law,” the CASPCA statement says.
“By law, the SPCA is required to find permanent adoptive homes for the animals it shelters and is not permitted to own or house the animals permanently with no option for later adoption," officials wrote. "Despite repeated requests, the SPCA was not allowed to house Niko temporarily while it sought a permanent home for Niko, either in a private home or sanctuary.”
According to the county’s statement on Friday, Niko was declared a dangerous dog by the Albemarle General District Court after Niko injured a dog in 2013 and injured a second dog in 2014. Niko was placed in isolated custody at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA after a woman said he got loose in her yard and killed her cat in 2015.
Niko’s owner, Toni Stacy, was convicted of being the owner of a dog that killed a cat and on Aug. 6, 2015 was sentenced to 90 days in jail with 90 days suspended on the condition that Niko be euthanized.
She did not comply with the order that the dog be killed and a legal battle ensued to prevent Niko from being killed and to rehome him or return him to his owners. The effort has seen multiple appeals since 2015 but the latest was largely denied by the Virginia Court of Appeals in April.
After a series of appeals, the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court’s ruling that the dog be euthanized. Albemarle County said in its statement that it received the final order to dispose of Niko on June 10.
According to an email sent to CASPCA staff and volunteers obtained by The Daily Progress, CASPCA will be providing grief counseling to any staff and volunteers who may need it.
"While the SPCA can sadly no longer improve the life of Niko, the work to better the lives of animals in Albemarle County, City of Charlottesville, and beyond must continue," Angie Gunter, CEO of the CASPCA said in the statement. "We are dedicated to providing the best quality of life for the animals in our care with the intent to place them in healthy and caring homes.”
Stacy’s lawyer, Elliott Harding, tweeted his disapproval of the decision Friday.
“Those monsters [Albemarle County Police Department] went into SPCA in [the] middle of night, took Niko, and killed him. Now won’t even tell SPCA or dog’s owner where they took him, how or where he was killed, and won’t give SPCA his body for cremation or burial. All while every other available option was presented,” Harding claimed in a social media post on Friday.
Harding also claimed the county statement was incorrect and Niko was not deemed “vicious” and that Niko did not injure a dog in 2013.
“I want to know whether he was actually euthanized or killed in some other fashion,” Harding tweeted.
Albemarle County spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said there was an exchange of custody between Albemarle County Animal Control and CASPCA shortly after the close of business Thursday night. Animal Control then transported Niko to a licensed veterinarian to be euthanized.
Kilroy said the veterinarian will return Niko’s ashes to the CASPCA.