COLORADO, USA: BREED SPECIFIC Legislation in the State of Colorado looks set to continue to penalise ‘pit bull’ owners, with two more metro-area cities considering laws that ban or place severe restrictions on the dogs.
The city of Parker announced last Wednesday that it would take public comment and vote on a ‘pit bull’ ordinance January 17, the same evening that council leaders in nearby Lone Tree discuss placing restrictions on the animals.
"This is not a normal canine animal," said Jack Hilbert, a Parker councilman who is shepherding the proposed law and is fond of citing spurious ‘evidence’ to support his claims. "A pit bull bite is unique - it's a grip and hold and doesn't release," Hilbert said at a news conference last Wednesday. "This aggressiveness makes it an exotic animal, and it needs to be treated that way."
Hilbert compared a pit bull bite to that of a lion or tiger, calling the dog's tendency to latch on and "shred" the skin of its victims "a danger to the public."
Continuing to play the ‘redneck card’, Hibbert added: "The difference, to be honest with you, is between a firecracker and dynamite," he said. "Which one do you want going off in your hand?"
The two Douglas County communities would follow in the footsteps of Aurora and Commerce City, which banned any new dogs designated as pit bulls from coming to their city and imposed strict conditions on residents who want to keep existing animals.
Meanwhile, the city of Denver has the state's only all-out ban on the dogs and is currently appealing in Supreme Court against a State-wide ruling – brought about by anti-BSL campaigners – to prevent cities from imposing breed bans.
Parker is considering requiring owners to purchase a $100,000 liability policy, outfit the animal with an identifying microchip, and vaccinate and neuter the dog. Owners would also be required to keep their pit bulls confined in a pen in their yard, and muzzled and on a short leash in public.
Hilbert and Mayor David Casiano said that while they weren't aware of any pit bull attacks in Parker, residents have contacted them with concerns that the town of 35,000 could become a safe haven for pit bulls coming from communities with restrictions in place.
"We're not waiting for something to happen, we're going to step up to the plate and make sure this doesn't happen," said Casiano, holding up a picture of Gregg Jones, a 10-year-old Aurora boy who was severely injured by three alleged pit bulls in his backyard in November.
But Dr. Adam Rosenberg, director of Parker's Animal Emergency & Specialty Centre, said breed-specific bans vilify the animals while taking the focus off of irresponsible owners.
"So-called pit bulls are like any other dog - they require training and supervision," Rosenberg said. "By banning a breed, you're saying these dogs are inherently aggressive and unsafe. I find that a gross generalization."
Rosenberg acknowledged that pit bulls are extremely muscular and have a powerful bite, but he disputed Hilbert's contention that the pit bull bite should be characterized as exotic.
"I don't feel comfortable saying it's the equivalent of a lion and tiger running around on the street," he said.
Since Denver's pit-bull ban was reinstated in 2004, there has been a trickle-down of pit-bull- related ordinances in surrounding cities. Aurora and Commerce City have put limits on pit bulls in recent months. Castle Rock and Louisville have long- standing bans.
Now six cities and one county are looking at either passing bans or restrictions on pit bulls or retooling their vicious-animal ordinances, concerned that they will see an influx of dangerous dogs as a result of the new restrictions.
Federal Heights, Lafayette, Centennial, Lakewood and Arapahoe County will discuss the issue over the next several months.
"If we don't do something now for Lafayette, we will become a repository for pit bulls that aren't allowed to live anywhere else in the region," said Lafayette City Council member Sue Klempan, who said pit bulls attacked and killed her cat on Thanksgiving.
"We don't want to be a pit-bull dumping ground," said Seth Hoffman, Lone Tree's project administrator.
Anti-BSL campaigners say the rash of bans is a response to media hysteria and community fear. Bans are not proven to work, they argue, and cities should focus on punishing the owners of all vicious dogs, regardless of breed.
"The breed bans, they kind of answer the emotional needs of the community," said Sonya Dias, a founder of the group Pit Bull Band in Denver. "But they don't answer the reality."
Dias had to send her pit bull, Gryffindor, out of Denver after the city's ban was reinstated.
It is impossible to know how many pit bulls there are in the metro area. In fact, "pit bull" refers not to a specific breed but to numerous breeds and hybrids that share certain physical and breeding characteristics. Parker's proposed restrictions name 10 breeds as pits.
What both sides of the debate agree upon is that Denver's ban, along with the subsequent restrictions, has put pit bulls on the move.
Dale Sparks, the mayor in Federal Heights, said there are more pit bulls in his city since Denver's ban. The Table Mountain Animal Centre in Golden reports that the number of pit bulls it houses has risen steadily as well. Pits now account for about 50 percent of all the dogs at the shelter.
"When Denver re-enacted their ban, the next day there were 14 pit bulls being dropped off here," said Ben Drotar, the shelter's spokesman. Ban proponents say pit bulls are unlike other dogs and bred to be fighters. They are more powerful, have a stronger bite-and-tear instinct and are more prone to unprovoked attacks.
Those opposed to pit bulls have galvanized around the case of 10-year-old Gregg Jones Jr. in Aurora. Jones was mauled in November by three pit bulls in his backyard and lost an arm in the attack. Some of the pit bulls at Jones' house were cast-offs from Denver, though the three dogs that attacked him were not.
"I don't want to see a Gregg Jones Jr. situation here," Parker Mayor David Casiano said. "We have a lot of young children in this town. We need to look out for the future."
Pit-bull owners say that kind of statement is fear mongering. Other dog breeds have been responsible for fatal attacks, including an Alaskan malamute that fatally mauled a 7-year-old Fruita girl in May. Marcy Setter, a spokeswoman for the national Pit Bull Rescue Central, said that attack received significantly less attention than pit-bull attacks.
"There isn't a major canine organization in the U.S. that supports breed-specific legislation," she said. "They all have identified the issue as an owner problem."
By focusing only on pit bulls, Setter said, authorities punish numerous docile animals while missing other vicious ones.
The bans themselves have taken on different forms. While Denver bars pit bulls altogether, Aurora and Commerce City ban new pit bulls from coming into the city while creating strict requirements for people who want to keep their pit bulls.
A state law bars local governments from targeting specific breeds, but in 2004 a judge ruled that law doesn't apply to home-rule cities. And this year, the Colorado Municipal League plans to back a bill that would undo the law.
"What it's really leading to is pretty much a state-wide euthanasia of all pit bulls," said Drotar. "There are some really good pit bulls out there."
The proposed ordnance for Parker defines ‘Pit Bull’ as any number of breeds, many of which have never been shown to be dangerous, or involved in any attacks, According to Section 3 of the proposed ordnance:
3. "Pit Bull" for purposes of this chapter, shall mean any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog (Old Country Bulldog), Dogo Argentino, Canary Dog (Canary Island Dog, Presa Canario, Perro de Presa Canario), Presa Mallorquin (Pero de Presa Mallorquin, Ca de Bou), Tosa Inu (Tosa Fighting Dog, Japanese Fighting Dog, Japanese Mastiff), Cane Corso (Cane di Macellaio, Sicilian Branchero), Fila Brasilairo, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds.