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Denver, Ohio, USA

CITY OFFICIALS in Denver may consider proposing the repeal of a law banning pit bulls in the city after they review alternative measures aimed at severely penalising owners for their dogs' behaviour.

The study marks the first re-examination of the city's vicious and dangerous dog ordinance in nearly two decades, city officials said. "We will certainly keep enforcing the law, but as time goes on we will be looking at alternatives to improve our dangerous and vicious dog ordinance and come up with a model we can recommend," said Doug Kelley, Denver director of animal control. "It has to be something City Council would support."

The city's apparent willingness to consider other options comes a week after Denver resumed enforcing its pit bull ban. The ban has been on the statute books since 1989, and was enacted originally on spurious "expert evidence", according to anti-BSL campaigners. However, the city had stopped enforcing the law while the state law superseding it was contested in court.

Denver sued to protect its ban after State lawmakers adopted a law last year prohibiting cities and counties within the State of Ohio from forbidding specific breeds. In April of this year, a Denver district judge upheld the city's right to set its own policies, ruling that the State "failed to disprove the potential dangers associated with pit bull attacks".

Since May 9, animal control officers have confiscated about 26 ‘pit bulls’ from homes in Denver. The city sent out more than 250 letters warning pit bull owners to get their dogs out of the city. "I'm not in favour of repealing the ban without an effective alternative," Kelley said. "We don't want to downplay the fact that it is still illegal to have a pit bull in Denver."

Denver has become the latest battleground in a campaign being waged anti-BSL campaigners in the US and around the world to end what some consider unfair breed-specific legislation.

The city has been flooded with hundreds of letters and e-mails demanding that Denver lift its ban. Locally, a group of pit bull owners staged a protest at the City Council meeting on May 23. The protesters presented a petition with more than 500 signatures to repeal the ban.

"I personally feel, based on the information I have today, the ban should stay in place," said City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez, who chairs the Human Capital Committee, which is charged with deciding whether to move any revisions to the full council.

"When pit bulls attack, it's serious. It's a public health issue. We hope for responsible owners, but unfortunately this breed of dog seems to attract irresponsible owners."

The review of the pit bull ban is only in the early stages. City officials said the goal is to research laws in place nationwide.

"I don't think anyone is sitting back . . . sticking their feet in the mud and saying we should not look at a possible alternative on how to do a better job when it concerns overall animal control," said Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson, who successfully defended the city's ban in court.
Some alternative options being considered include:

l Pit bull owners could be required to apply for a license and permit that would include strict stipulations on how the dog is to be kept and managed.

l They also may be required to carry liability insurance to cover potential damages if the dog gets loose and causes harm.

l Dog owners also could face stiff fines if their dog is caught roaming freely. This is the practice in some other cities, including Seattle and Chicago, where fines range from $250 to $500, city officials said.

The city's decision to re-examine its policy is drawing a mix of praise and concern.
"Denver's pit bull ban has been in place 16 years. There are more pit bulls in the city than ever before," said Glen Bui, vice president of the Washington-based American Canine Foundation, which has been invited by Denver to participate in the effort to develop a comprehensive and equitable proposal.

"The money spent on litigation, as well as seizing and impounding pit bulls, could be better utilised to focus on irresponsible owners and dangerous dogs of all breeds," Bui said.

About 410 pit bulls were impounded and killed in 2003, according to city figures. Another 240 were returned to their owners. At the time, the city estimated there were 4,500 pit bulls being kept illegally. Denver banned the breed in 1989 after a 54-year-old minister was attacked and mauled by a dog alleged to be a pit bull. A 5-year-old had been killed by a pit bull the year before.

More recently, Denver resident Josh Armijo was attacked by a loose pit bull in October and left with $20,000 in medical bills.

Opponents of the ban point to cases they consider unjust, including the banishing of Buddy, a Staffordshire bull terrier, who was depicted as languishing on death row at the city's animal shelter last spring, reported in OUR DOGS newspaper at the time.

"I'm glad the city is realising that this issue is more complex and needs to be addressed in a more diligent way," said Ben Wilson, Buddy's owner. "Buddy is with some friends out of the city. I hope when Denver makes up its mind on this it will be a happy day for me and my family and other people who have been unjustly affected by this law."

Denver dog owners including one Nuclear Scientist who's son owns a Pit Bull have started a petition with Denver voters signing it, while the aptly-named councillor Debbie Stafford is working hard to get the city to understand breed specific legislation is not the answer to controlling allegedly dangerous dogs.

The anti-BSL group, the American Canine Foundation is getting ready to sue the city in the Court of Appeals for re-instating the ban.