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International Dog Law:
City to appeal against state’s anti-BSL laws

"Tell me please if there is anything more local in government than a dog catcher?" Denver City councillor, Charlie Brown, who thinks that anti-BSL protestors should ‘butt out’.

THE MIDWEST city of Denver, USA is to sue the State of Colorado for imposing a new law that effectively outlaws breed specific legislation throughout the state, instead following the considered advice of anti-BSL groups to utilise laws that ‘punish the deed, not the breed’.

As reported previously, Denver found itself at the heart of a BSL battle when city dog wardens seized Staffordshire Bull Terrier ‘Buddy’ as a one of three ‘banned’ breeds under Denver’s breed specific law that dates back to 1989, and was enacted on allegedly spurious evidence, following a spate of dog attacks ascribed to Pit Bull Terriers – just like the UK’s own Dangerous Dogs Act, enacted two years later. The Denver law banned Pit Bulls, American Staffords and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

There followed a swift legal challenge from the anti-BSL group the American Canine Foundation, who found an ally in the appropriately named Debbie Stafford, a Republican State senator from nearby Aurora. Stafford managed to garner sufficient support from fellow State senators and get her new anti-BSL Bill passed. The Bill, HB 1279, which toughened up penalties for irresponsible dog owners rather than targeting breeds as ‘dangerous’, became euphemistically known as ‘Buddy’s Law’ and was signed by the State Governor just in time to save Buddy. This saw Buddy returned to his owner Benjamin Wilson, whilst several other Pit Bull ‘type’ dogs held in the City Pound were also released.

8 year-old Buddy has never hurt anyone or displayed any aggression. Wilson would walk him in Denver's Washington Park drawing stares and occasional warnings from locals about the city ordinance.

"I couldn't believe the city would actually enforce it," Wilson commented.

One day, two years ago, Buddy escaped from the yard and was picked up by animal control. Wilson's dog was returned with a warning to move it out of the city. He put Buddy up for adoption but didn't like the looks of those wanting to take him, suspecting they planned to train him as a fighting or attack dog.

Then, in early April 2004, his heavily pregnant wife was in the backyard planting flowers when animal control officers showed up and spotted Buddy, swiftly seizing him and placing him in the City Pound, pending destruction.

"I think breed bans are horrible," said Debbie Stafford. "Denver has killed thousands of innocent family pets. Last year alone, it killed 410 pit bulls that never hurt anyone."
Stafford rushed the bill through the legislature hoping to head off Buddy's scheduled April 30’execution’. The governor signed it into law last month, saving Buddy and 21 other dogs on ‘death row’.

However, Denver city officials are smarting from what they consider to be high-handed State intervention in their affairs, and the city is launching a legal challenge in the US Supreme Court to overturn the State ruling. The ACF, meanwhile, are preparing to launch a vigorous counter-challenge, claiming that the ‘evidence’ used to create Denver’s breed ban in 1989 was not only incorrect, but that some city officials knew it to be so – a charge, in effect, of political corruption.

The ACF warn that if the Supreme Court finds for Denver, then all anti-BSL laws across the country will be negated and cities and towns will be free to persecute dogs according to their breed or ‘type’.

Meanwhile, a local lawyer said that profiling dogs has led to profiling owners.

"I can't complain about the dog law but I can complain about the guy on the other end of the leash," said lawyer David Suro, who represents a Latino whose dog was picked up. "Of the 1,000 people charged with pit bull violations in the last five years, 62% are Hispanic."
He plans to file a motion in municipal court claiming the city is targeting Latino dog owners.
Denver is not alone in banning the dogs — Miami, Cincinnati and a number of smaller cities have too. If a pit bull is seen in Denver, the owner is given a warning to move it outside city limits. If it's spotted again, it is taken to the pound where it could be destroyed. Since the ban took effect, hundreds of the dogs have met that fate.

Suspicious

"It's impossible for any species of dog to be genetically dangerous. They can be aggressive due to their environmental conditions," said Glen Bui, Vice President of the ACF, which has fought breed bans around the country and aims to do the same in Denver. "This gives Denver a false sense of security. It's the attempted genocide of a breed of dog."
But city officials say everyone else should ‘butt out’.

"Tell me please if there is anything more local in government than a dog catcher?" asked Charlie Brown, a city councilman, who is suspicious of the snoopy outsiders. "We do not have state dog catchers in Colorado, we have city dog catchers that we pay for. We have the right to create our own ordinances based on Denver's dog problems. It's time to draw a line, and I am drawing it in front of the dog pound."

Karen Delise, author of the book ‘Fatal Dog Attacks,’ said about 20 people a year are killed by dogs nationwide in the US and the chance of it happening again in the same city or county was akin to lightning striking twice in the same place.

Delise, who collects data on dog attacks, said there were at least 2 million Pit Bulls in the United States. Some are trained to fight but she said there was no evidence that pit bulls in general were inherently vicious or more prone to attack than other dogs.

"When I call around the country and hear the shelters are full of these dogs it gives me the message that there are too many Pit Bulls and too many irresponsible owners," she said. "Banning a breed puts the focus on the dog and you are ignoring the real factors that contributed to its behaviour."

Meanwhile, Glen Bui told OUR DOGS that the ACF were fully prepared for a battle with Denver and had real facts to back of their arguments in favour of the State law.
"Denver has several hurdles to overcome to prove they have the need (necessity, emergency issue) to regulate and control a dangerous animal (Pit Bull)," said Bui. "The Supreme Court in Colorado has ruled Pit Bulls are dangerous, and there have been several federal district court rulings upholding this. Dog owners were not defended with the best ability according to our lawyers.

"We are going to prove that the Pit Bull is not an aggressive breed of dog, we will also address home rule. Statistics show that Pit Bulls are no more aggressive than any other dog can be if not properly trained and socialised. In the past fatalities by dogs have been manipulated for the sole purpose of banning breeds of dogs. We have proved this already in the court of law.

"We found some really bizarre evidence in Denver's exhibit list, they are still claiming Pit Bulls ‘lock their jaws’, and that the Pit Bull has more power than other breeds because there is a high percentage of chained Pit Bulls attacking people. The claim that Pit Bulls cause more severe injury than all other breeds is what really amazes us. Denver claims the Pit Bull attacks like the shark, shaking and tearing its victim to death. I guess 30 other breeds of dogs that have killed people must have just scared the victims into heart failure and not caused any severe damage?

"We expect to find out who bribed the Denver City Council, they are receiving an audit over this. We have found in other parts of the country certain animal organisations have corrupted judges and city council, it even goes farther than that!"

••••••

Letter From Colorado State Representative Debbie Stafford Sponsor of HB1279 Prohibiting Breed Specific Legislation in Colorado to the American Canine Foundation – reprinted with permission:

Dear Mr. Bui,

I want to thank you and the American Canine Foundation for your tireless
effort and assistance in providing statistical data which helped me convince my colleagues in the Colorado Legislature to do the right thing and strengthen Colorado's dangerous dog laws and prohibit breed bans at the local level in Colorado.

In the past 15 years in Denver, thousands of innocent family pets have been taken from their responsible owners and massacred. Denver's own statistics indicate that in 2003 2.6% of the dog bites were from Pit Bulls. The factual data from the American Canine Foundation assisted me in the challenge of bringing fairness and equity for all dog owners. We have now put the burden of responsibility where it belongs, on the dog owner, not on the breed of a dog.

I hope that other states will utilise your valuable resources as they find occasion to re-evalute their dangerous dog legislation. Thank you for helping Colorado do the right thing. Take care.

Rep. Debbie Stafford
Colorado House of Representatives
House District 40