Breed Between the Lines

Owning a pit bull look-alike can be the pits.

Although the city can't do anything about her right now, if it's successful in fighting the new law, animal control could be on my doorstep to pick up Madeline. A dog that's bitten no one, shows no aggressive tendencies and plays with half the kids on the surrounding blocks. A dog that's been spayed, has her rabies shots, is registered with the city, lives in the house rather than on a chain in the back yard, is socialized to not chase cats (birds are another story) and demurs to most dogs.

But Madeline's personality and training will not be taken into account in determining her fate. "We only consider appearance," Kelley says. "When Denver created the law, they said all three of these types of dogs and anything that looks like them were vicious dogs, so there's an assumption that the dog is vicious."

The city estimates that roughly 4,500 pit bulls and pit-bull mixes are being kept in the city illegally, but the breed accounts for only 1 to 2 percent of the reported bites. German shepherds have topped the list for at least the last three years, followed by chows, labs and Rottweilers -- then pit bulls. "The challenge to get into is that when pit bulls bite, they're often really serious bites," Kelley points out, "although there haven't been any really serious bites or deaths since 1987 or 1988, leading up to the breed-specific legislation."

Will the real pit bull please stand up? Test your breed 
knowledge and pick the American Pit Bull Terrier from 
the look-alikes. 


Answers: 1. Cane Corso 2. Presa Canario 3. Boxer 4. 
American Pit Bull Terrier 5. Patterdale Terrier 6. 
Alapaha blue blood bulldog
Will the real pit bull please stand up? Test your breed knowledge and pick the American Pit Bull Terrier from the look-alikes.

Answers: 1. Cane Corso 2. Presa Canario 3. Boxer 4. American Pit Bull Terrier 5. Patterdale Terrier 6. Alapaha blue blood bulldog

All dogs bite, of course. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1999 that at least one dog from each of the 143 registered breeds had bitten someone that year. But because of the fear surrounding pit bulls -- and the bizarre myths, like the one about their locking jaws -- Madeline has had a rough puppyhood. There's no room for error in her training; whether or not she's a pit, the blame for any incident will always fall on her because of her appearance. She's not allowed to defend herself or her turf, lest someone mistake it for aggression. She's not even allowed to protect her own food bowl. Our polydactyl cat, Seven, embeds his claws in her face and then hangs off of her.

Maybe Madeline's a pit bull, maybe she's a boxer. The only way we'll ever find out -- to the city's satisfaction, at least -- is if we take her to animal control for evaluation, but such tests are on hold until the lawsuit is settled. Whatever she is, Madeline just wishes the damned cat would get off her face.

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