Time to come out from the shadows…. Woof?

Pit bulls Westword Screen Shot 2020-02-11 at 7.53.21 AM

Probably many people watched the courtesy public hearing last night the the Monday Denver City Council meeting. The hearing – with more than 25 speakers — came at the very end, and it lasted for hours.

The topic was a proposal by District 8 Council Member Chris Herndon to offer a compromise plan to allow pit bulls to be back in society.  It involves special licensing, special mandates (spay and neuter), and other requirements.  Pit bulls (a grab bag name for several specific breeds) will soon be out in the open, if Mayor Hancock signs the bill into law.

But pit bulls already are in the open. I see them in my neighborhood. Speakers said they saw them in their neighborhood. After a 1989 ban in Denver – called breed-specific legislation, or BSL – some owners moved to other cities or counties, and some dogs were euthanized when the owners did not want to move.

Last night’s vote was 7-4, with two members absent (Stacie Gilmore and Candi CdeBaca). The “no” votes came from At-Large Member Debbie Ortega (who was on City Council when the ban was passed), District 2 member Kevin Flynn, District 5 member Amanda Sawyer, and District 6 member Paul Kashmann.

Council member Herndon has explained this program in various publications:

“… Herndon characterized the effort as a compromise, since any dog considered a pit would be eligible for a ‘breed-restrictive license. If you have somebody who should have one of these breeds, and if this bill should pass, they would go to Denver Animal Protection [aka the Denver Animal Shelter] and get a license. They’ll just have to give the name of the owner and the address where the dog will reside, two emergency contacts, a description of the pit bull and a recent photograph, proof that the dog is microchipped and current on vaccinations, and pay an annual fee. And if 36 months pass and the dog doesn’t have any violations of Denver animal ordinances, the dog can transition to the regular license that any Goldendoodle can have now.’ ”

It sounds so easy, but the crux of the matter – whether you love pit bulls or hate pit bulls or are afraid of pit bulls – only 18% of the people in Denver who own a dog actually purchase a license for their dog. (This was noted during last night’s hearing.) A license costs a whopping $15. It includes a tag, so people can find an owner if the dog slips away, and it requires a rabies vaccination.

So if the average, ho-hum dog owner can’t be bothered to spend the $15 (and you can do it online), how well will those who own pit bull breeds buy these new licenses? The fees have not yet been set, but probably between $30 and $50. And will there be training for any dog? Socialization with other animals? Keeping a dog on a leash (which is really important, since a dog can run right into traffic or lunge at people or other animals)?

Herndon called experts to discuss the reality of pit bull bites, but after listening to them, there was no real answer. One expert, Dr. Ariel Fagen, DVM, DACVB, a Veterinary Behaviorist, was putting out numbers of problematic pet behavior, but noting that many parts of the information in some studies were not valid. So, uh?

The crowd cheered on a 10-year-old girl who spoke lovingly of her family’s pit bull and how that dog helped another dog with disability issues. She was great and heartfelt, but really?

And when senior citizens in Montbello who liked to walk their neighborhoods (carrying metal rods and sticks), many in the audience gave that “look,” like that didn’t matter very much. I mean, they’re old, right?

Why was the ban put in place in 1989? There was someone in the audience who came forward with real knowledge: Former Assistant City Attorney Tom Moe prosecuted one of the nastiest pit bull encounters in Denver: A minister was attacked by a pit bull, with 70 bites and two broken legs, and the dog had already attacked three other people.  A neighbor shot the dog, and helped the minister. Around the same time, a child was killed by a pit bull. Moe helped write the ordinance.

Last night, Moe asked the City Council to offer more information, before moving forward.

A story in The Denver Post from September 1989 probably helped the ban become law:

“The owner of a pit bull that attacked a Denver pastor and left him with 70 bites and two broken legs will receive no jail time but must do 400 hours of community service under a sentence imposed yesterday.

“Denver County Judge Art Fine said that will mean that cook David A. Martinez, 25, will spend the next 50 weekends carrying out the sentence.

“Fine rejected the 30-day jail term requested by Assistant City Attorney Tom Moe.

“The judge said that because Martinez hasn’t previously been in trouble and holds a steady job, jail would be inappropriate.

“Fine also said the failure of city council to impose a total ban on pit bulls influenced his decision.

“ ‘If the city council wasn’t willing to ban pit bulls, I’m not going to make an example of Mr. Martinez. For better or worse, pit bulls can be legally owned in Denver.’ “

Now, 30-plus years later, we’ll see where this goes. Will pit bull owners purchase the license and follow the steps? Or will the dogs stay in the shadows? I’m betting on shadows, but perhaps owners will do the right thing. After all, owners need to be good to their animals, not bad and mean owners, especially moving forward.

The links below lead to viewing last night’s City Council meeting on Channel 8; stories today from Denverite, Westword, The Denver Post, and Colorado Politics; the story from 1989, and an earlier story in Denverite that introduced the discussion of the new law.


Denver City Council neuters city’s pit bull ban





Denver moves closer to allowing pit bulls in the city


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