Dog left to die in dumpster — but its owners didn’t face jail time

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — If another hour had passed before Scott Miller happened to throw something in the trash, the case of the dumpster dog might never have been known.

The owner of the Yorkshire terrier would not be asking for community forgiveness or be placed on personal leave by the Cherry Creek School District, where she’s employed as the assistant superintendent for educational operations, a position that oversees all schools in the district.

But Miller, a California construction worker, was working at a job site in Westminster when he happened to peek inside the dumpster around 6:30 a.m. on July 27.

“Felt really bad for the dog. It’s no place for any living creature,” Miller said.

He rescued the dog with a co-worker about an hour before a truck arrived to collect the garbage in the dumpster. Miller believed that if the dog had ended up in the trash truck, it likely would have been crushed to death.

Miller told the Problem Solvers the dog was not crying and made no sound when he saw it sitting on a blanket above a pile of trash.

“That dog, there was no way that there was a misunderstanding that the dog was alive or dead. He was clearly well off. Sweet, sweet dog,” Miller said.

Miller said the dog had trouble walking on its hind legs. He called police, who brought the dog to animal control in Westminster. There, an animal control officer determined the dog likely had torn ACLs in both of its hind legs.

The officer scanned the dog for a microchip and discovered he belonged to a couple in Aurora named Robert and Dr. Nickie Bell.

Dog’s owners hear from animal control

When the officer called Nickie Bell, she said the dog “was throwing up, hair was falling out, he wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t walking,” according to the call recorded on a body camera and obtained by the Problem Solvers.

Later, the call continued:

  • Nickie Bell: “So we wrapped him in his favorite blanket and we put him to rest.”
  • Animal control officer: “Where did you put him to rest at?”
  • Bell: “What do you mean?”
  • Officer: “Where did you put the dog to rest at?”
  • Bell: “In a dumpster.”
  • Officer: “When did you do that?”
  • Bell: “Last night.”
  • Officer: “So your dog is very much alive.”
  • Bell: “What?!”

Robert and Nickie Bell Didn’t return multiple phone calls from the Problem Solvers, but FOX31 did obtain an interview they gave the animal control officer. It was recorded on body camera video when they went to Westminster City Hall to get their dog back.

In the video, the officer asks: “So what happened that led you to wrapping him up in the blanket?”

“The chunks of hair loss, he was leaking,” Robert Bell responded.

The officer would later write in her report, “I asked both parties several questions but I am still not sure what happened or why. In speaking with Robert and Nichole, they both appeared without emotion either to have lost a beloved pet or to find out their pet is alive and doing well.”

On the body cam, the officer is heard asking, “So he was still alive when you put him in the dumpster?”

“I didn’t take a pulse no, none of that. No, he wasn’t moving,” Robert Bell responded.

At the time of the incident, the Bells lived in southeastern Aurora — 32 miles away from the dumpster they chose in Westminster. That’s why the animal control officer asked, “You said, ‘Let’s drive to Westminster and put him in a dumpster?'”

“I was driving around, we were bumming,” Robert Bell said.

Dog’s owner responds, goes on leave from job

The Bells ignored repeated interview requests from the Problem Solvers, but in a statement emailed to FOX31 by the Cherry Creek School District, where Nickie Bell works, she wrote;

“I am exceedingly sorry for the events of July 26, 2021. During that time period, our family dog had been very ill and we had sought medical treatment for him. We were also going through a personal crisis with a gravely ill family member. In short, my family was under an extreme amount of stress at this time. When I arrived home on the evening of July 26, my husband told me that our dog had passed away. I was devastated and grief-stricken. My husband wrapped the dog in a blanket and disposed of him in a dumpster. We believed the dog had passed. We were told the next day that he had been found alive. I sincerely regret this situation and the judgment I exhibited during these stressful events. I ask for the community’s forgiveness.”

Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Christopher Smith also emailed FOX31 a statement:

“I struggle with this immensely difficult situation. By all accounts and in my personal experience, Dr. Bell has demonstrated strong judgment and character as an educator and a leader in this district. While her actions in this matter are not related to her job in any way, they are very concerning. Dr. Bell is on personal leave at this time. We will continue having conversations internally about this situation.”

On July 27, the day their dog was found alive, the Bells were summonsed on three city violations: abandoning animals, neglect of animals and cruelty to animals.

In October, a Westminster city prosecutor agreed to let the couple plead guilty to neglect of animals and dismissed the other two counts.

In exchange, the Bells agreed to make a $5,000 contribution to the Rocky Mountain Yorkie Rescue Group, pay $1,085 in restitution to the Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden — which cared for the dog until he was adopted out — and $280 in court costs and fines.

‘He’s just the sweetest’: Dog gets new owner

The dog’s new owner told the Problem Solvers the punishment hardly fits the crime: “No, his vet bills have already racked up more than that.”

The dog’s new owner asked FOX31 not to share her name but has renamed the 8-year-old Yorkie, who previously went by the name Brutus.

“He’s a teddy bear. That’s why we named him Teddy. It fits him,” she said.

The Problem Solvers met Teddy on Nov. 1, five days after he underwent surgery to repair the torn ACLs in both of his hind legs.

“He’s just the sweetest dog. What could he have done to make someone want to throw him away and ensure his death?” his new owner asked.

She told the Problem Solvers the city prosecutor should have handed over the case to the district attorney in Jefferson County, where the Bells could have faced more serious charges, including felony animal abuse.

“These animals can’t argue for themselves. He (Teddy) can’t tell us how awful it was and how much he was hurting. You know if we hurt another human like this, we would go to prison. He just can’t speak for himself,” she said.

How did Teddy suffer his injuries?

In their body cam interview with animal control,

  • Robert Bell: “He was twitching blind, shaking. I said that’s kind of cruel. I said, ours (dog) is going to pass, and let’s put him in (a dumpster).”
  • Animal control officer: “But he hadn’t passed yet?”
  • Bell: “I thought he had.”
  • Officer: “Was he walking around and everything?”
  • Bell: “No, no.”

It’s not known how Teddy suffered two torn ACLs in his hind legs, but his new owner has her suspicions.

“I mean, I’m guessing somebody snatched him by his back legs and threw him in the dumpster. That would have done it. How else would he have sustained both knees simultaneously, same age of injury?”

The city prosecutor declined an interview request from the Problem Solvers. A spokeswoman for Westminster Police told FOX31 the city prosecutor didn’t forward the case to the district attorney because the city prosecutor felt criminal intent could not be proven, so it was handled as a municipal violation.

Places that accept unwanted dogs

Many animals shelters, including the Foothills Animal Shelter in Golden, have drop-off kennels for pets if a family needs to give up a pet, no questions asked.

The Rocky Mountain Yorkie Rescue helped fund Teddy’s recovery and helped find his new owner. You can visit their website to learn more about their mission.

Update (Nov. 23): The Problem Solvers have learned of a petition signed by more than 830 community members, calling for Nickie Bell to be fired from her position at Cherry Creek School District.

Update (Nov. 23): Assistant superintendent forced out after FOX31 dumpster dog story

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