Critics assail Denver's pit bull ban
DENVER (AP) — A few weeks ago, two police cars
and two animal control vehicles pulled up at the home of Stef'ny
Steffan looking for her beloved 4-year-old pit bull, Xena. Seven
officers hauled the animal off to the city shelter, putting her on
Xena became an outlaw after Denver won a court
fight and reinstated one of the toughest pit-bull bans in the
nation. Since May, more than 380 dogs have been impounded and at
least 260 destroyed — an average of more than three a day.
Dog owners are in a panic. Some are using an
underground railroad of sorts, sending their pets to live elsewhere
or hiding them from authorities. City officials would not estimate
how many people might be violating the ordinance.
Some owners, like Steffan, have won a reprieve
for their pets with help from a rescue group. The group got Xena
released by signing an affidavit stating that the animal would never
return to Denver. The group took the dog to Mariah's Promise in
Divide, an animal sanctuary that has accepted more than three dozen
pit bulls from Denver.
For Steffan and her partner, Gina Black,
leaving Xena 60 miles from home was a lousy option but the only one
"It's safer than animal control. Safer than
keeping her underground — at least she'll be able to play now,"
Steffan said. "But she'll miss us. We're her pack."
Denver is one of three major metropolitan
areas, along with Miami and Cincinnati, to ban pit bulls, according
to Glen Bui, vice president of the American Canine Foundation.
Pit bull typically describes three kinds of
dogs — the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier
and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. But Denver's ban applies to any
dog that looks like a pit bull. The animal's actual behavior does
City Councilman Charlie Brown said that in his
judgment, "pit bulls are trained to attack. They're bred to do
Critics of the ban use words like
"annihilation" and "genocide," and the city shelter has received
e-mails likening animal control officers to Nazis.
"Breed bans are just a knee-jerk reaction to
something that happened in the community," Bui said.
Denver banned pit bulls in 1989 after dogs
mauled a minister and killed a boy in separate attacks. The
Legislature passed a law in 2004 that prohibited breed-specific
bans, but the city sued and a judge ruled in April the law was an
unconstitutional violation of local control.
Critics of the ordinance say that a blanket ban
on an entire breed is misguided that the law should instead target
irresponsible owners and all dangerous dogs.
"If anyone says one dog is more likely to kill
— unless there's a study out there that I haven't seen — that's not
based on scientific data," said Julie Gilchrist, a doctor at the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who researches
The CDC, the American Veterinary Medical
Association and the Humane Society of the United States examined 20
years of dog-bite data and concluded that pit bulls and Rottweilers
caused the most deaths.
But the researchers also noted that fatal
attacks represent a small proportion of dog-bite injuries and that
the number of bites per breed simply seems to rise with their
At the city shelter, pit bulls are cordoned off
from other dogs in what has become death row. Nearly 100 pit bulls
have been released to live outside the county. A nonresident must
guarantee the dog will never return to Denver.
Sonya Dias, who is moving out of Denver because
of the ban, said she was a little intimidated by her pit bull when
she first saw him. But "when I said, 'Hey little doggie,' his whole
body just started wagging." Gryffindor is staying at Mariah's
Promise until Dias sells her home.
"He's been dangerous to a couple of pairs of
shoes and some mini-blinds," Dias said. "But otherwise he's a
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