Denver Stops Bullying the Bully Breeds

Emma Campbell

Pit bulls were banned from Denver in 1989. There have been many legal challenges to the law and in 2004, the Colorado state legislature outlawed breed-specific bans. However, this only lasted about a year because the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that dog breeds were a local issue, and therefore the city had a right to ban pit bulls under their home rule authority.

Fast forward to 2020, Denver City Council passed a bill lifting the ban, replacing it with a registration system. Despite this glimmer of hope for the bully breeds the mayor vetoed the bill citing his uncertainty. The City Council had the opportunity to override that veto on February 24th. However, they were unable to get the votes.

When it comes to breed specific laws there is strong support and opposition from the public. There are outspoken members of the community on both sides, which can be seen in Denver as this law has been a topic of discussion. Two important questions to consider is why do these bans garner so much controversy and do they work?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, 800,000 of them receiving medical attention, half of them being children. So, dog bites can pose a serious health risk. Denver initially implemented the ban because of two very severe attacks, one resulting in the death of a young boy.

However, the issue is very complex and any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. There are many factors that determine a particular dog’s chance of injuring a person, including their individual history, behavior, size, number of dogs involved, and the vulnerability of the person bitten. Breed-specific bans try to simplify a complex social problem and in doing so these laws divert resources away from actually fixing the problem.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has highlighted several reasons why breed-specific bans and restrictions are not a responsible approach to dog bite prevention:

  • Breed-specific laws can be difficult to enforce because a dog’s breed cannot always be determined by how it appears. “Pit bulls” are the most frequent targets of breed-specific legislation and they are not even a breed.
  • Breed-specific legislation is discriminatory against responsible owners and their dogs.
  • Breed bans do not address the social issue of irresponsible pet ownership.
  • It is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds because the data reported is often unreliable. This is because:
    • The breed of a biting dog is often not known or is reported inaccurately.
    • The actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, especially if they don’t result in serious injury.
    • The number of dogs of a particular breed or combination of breeds in a community is not known because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed. For example, Denver City Council noted that approximately only 20% of dog owners have their dog registered with the town.
    • Statistics often do not consider multiple incidents caused by a single animal.
    • Breed popularity changes over time, making comparison of breed-specific bite rates unreliable.

The AVMA also highlights strategies for dog bite prevention:

  • Enforcement of generic, non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws, with an emphasis on chronically irresponsible owners.
  • Enforcement of animal control ordinances such as leash laws, by trained animal care and control officers.
  • Prohibition of dog fighting.
  • Encouraging neutering for dogs not intended for breeding.
  • School-based and adult education programs that teach pet selection strategies, pet care and responsibility, and bite prevention.

The AVMA is not alone. There is a long list of groups from varying points of view that voice concern over the implementation of breed specific bans, like the CDC, Humane Society, American Bar Association, State Farm Insurance, and the United States Department of Justice, just to name a few.

Denver is not alone, there are are various municipalities throughout the United States that have breed specific bans. Also, all military bases exclude pit bulls, rottweilers, doberman pinschers, chow chows, and wolf hybrids. There is no evidence that shows that these bans are successful. It is often argued by ban advocates that there is no evidence that it is not successful, and it is better to be safe than sorry. That may sound good, but the issue is that good dogs and responsible dog owners are punished because of an unwarranted fear. The evidence does show that the way people treat their animals has a direct correlation with how their animal behaves. Instead of worrying about the dog in your neighbor’s yard, you should worry about your neighbor.

Breed Specific Legislation: Why?

Andrea Rodricks
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Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL as it is more commonly known, is a way for cities and towns to place either restrictions or full bans on a certain breed of dog. Most commonly these bans are of so called dangerous breeds or even “bully breeds.” Typically the restrictions include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds just to name a few. Additionally, there are many mixed breeds that end up being encompassed within these bans, even if the genetic make up of the dog is unknown. The dog just needs to looks like a restricted breed. In enacting these restrictions, the temperament of individual dogs is not considered, only what breed the dog appears to be.

BSL has been around for many years, but there has been more publicity surrounding it in recent years. Many times in enacting BSL, the thought behind the laws was to reduce the number of dog attacks. However, there are many studies that show that placing bans on these breeds does not reduce the number of dog attacks. Any breed of dog can attack, not just the so called dangerous breeds. Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association has shown that no breed of dog is anymore dangerous than any other breed. Even recently, President Obama came out against BSL, stating “Breed Specific Legislation is a bad idea.” Continue reading