Boulder takes a bite out of bad dog behavior

Matthew James adopted Major, an American Pit Bull Terrier, from a Los Angeles shelter in 2006. When he moved to Denver later that year, he knew very little about the city's pit bull ban.

"I wasn't sure how strict it was," he says. "Then I got here and learned they were real serious about it, that they would confiscate your dog and everything." But James had already signed a lease on a house and was still looking for a job, and "I didn't have that many options financially," he recalls.

So, like many other pit bulls in Denver, Major went underground. James kept his dog inside and away from windows during the day and only took him for walks at night, usually in the back alley. The only time Major could run was when James would drive them out of Denver to dog parks in Lakewood and Wheat Ridge. "I was always worried about cops showing up and taking him away from me or neighbors seeing him and maybe reporting him," says James. "It was a pretty paranoid state. He was like a fugitive."

The city of Boulder contracts its animal-control services with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.
The city of Boulder contracts its animal-control services with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.
Matthew James and Major
Matthew James and Major
Major would be banned in Denver, but is welcome in Boulder.
Major would be banned in Denver, but is welcome in Boulder.

After getting a job at an advertising firm, James decided to ditch the Mile High City for Boulder, which has no pit bull ban. He moved into a pet-friendly apartment and discovered that six other people in the building owned pit bulls, too. "And three of them said they'd also moved out of Denver because of the ban," he says.

Boulder officials say they have no reliable count of how many dogs there are in the city, let alone pit bulls. In 2008, Boulder's animal-control division recorded 207 dog bites; 9 were reported to have come from pit bulls. The numbers were similar in the three years prior. And Boulder hasn't had a fatal dog attack in at least thirty years. Because what it does have is a muscular dangerous-dog law and a unique bite-diversion program that teaches owners how to control aggressive behavior in their dogs in order to prevent future bites.

Boulder contracts its animal-control services with the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, which folds the duties into its shelter operations at 2323 55th Street. The nonprofit has six employees who are commissioned as officers to enforce the city's aggressive-animal ordinance. "If an animal bites, claws, scratches, attempts to bite or approaches somebody in a manner of attack, or bites or injures another animal, it is deemed aggressive," says Boulder Animal Care and Control manager Janee Teague. In Boulder, animal-control officers can ticket the owner of a dog that behaves in an overtly threatening manner; in Denver, a dog must cause injury before an owner can be cited. But more tickets aren't the goal of Boulder's program. In fact, in many circumstances, an animal-control officer will agree to drop the citation if the owner agrees to have the dog evaluated by Humane Society training personnel. The trainer and the owner then discuss the dog's history and past behavior.

"History is a good predictor of the future. So there's a lot of conversation and observing the dog behaviorally," says Lindsay Wood, the Humane Society training director. "What's the recurring problem with this dog? Is it aggressive toward people or other dogs? Is it a dog that bites when they're in possession of something? Is it fear-related? We're watching the dog and how it would interact with me or the guardian or another dog we bring in."

The evaluation costs the owner $90, about the equivalent of a court fine for an aggressive-dog ticket. An owner also has the option of signing up for additional training classes at the shelter geared toward a dog's particular negative behavior, such as the Grumpy Growlers class.

"I think it's a wonderful alternative that we have," says Teague. "As officers, we're given a lot of different discretion that we have to use. It's not always the best method to use just punitive damage like a summons. The bite diversion allows us to be a little more proactive and community-oriented. We can say, 'Look, this is a bite that we believe that with a little modification could be remedied and this situation will not happen again.'"

Still, certain incidents are so egregious that they necessitate the court process, Teague notes. But in the two years that she's been director, only one pit bull had been labeled too aggressive by a judge. "It was the dog's third bite, and the bites were increasing in severity," she says. And after going through the training, the owners did not follow through to control their pit bull's behavior: "They let the dog out the front door and it bit again, a severe bite." The dog was ordered euthanized.

During those same two years, Denver euthanized 558 pit bulls — whether the dogs bit anyone or not.

An aggressive-dog ordinance is far more effective than a breed ban, Teague says. "It's more of an owner-type issue and the way that the animal is being raised, handled and controlled rather than being a breed issue," she explains. "I've seen double the amount of nice pit bulls than I have the amount of mean pit bulls. If a situation does occur, that owner needs to be held accountable, as opposed to just eliminating a certain breed — because in my opinion, you're creating a whole other issue. Now you're having to enforce that ban, and so that's where a lot of your resources are going to end up rather than going to education and a more proactive approach."

James and Major approve of that approach.

 
My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
Eric
Eric

My friend's dog just suffered a serious attack from a pit bull. The owners treat the dog well but this dog is aggressive toward other dogs and it has attacked before. I am 100% for a ban on pit bulls. It's in their DNA to attack. Even if 2/3 of them never pose a problem, the attacks from the remainder are unacceptable.

They kill more humans than any other breed. They are responsible for about 75 human deaths between 2005 and 2009 - half of all deadly dog attacks. How many other dogs do they kill? How are the families impacted? Animal shelters in the United States euthanized approximately 1.7 million dogs in 2008; approximately 980,000, or 58 percent of these were assessed to have been pit bull-type dogs

If you are going to get a dog please strongly consider any other breed than a pit bull. Do not promote and encourage this violent behavior.

Tiffany34652
Tiffany34652 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Eric- I would like to know where you got your numbers. Pit-bulls are not inherently violent or dangerous dogs. Statisics show that Pit-bulls actually have better temperment than over 85% of other dog breeds. Pitbulls are loyal, loving and wonderful pets. Judge the deed not the breed. Not to mention ban-specific legislation does not work!! Did you even read the article above? Way to go Boulder!

OneMadAsHell
OneMadAsHell

Lets kill you first. that will solve our ID10T problem. And PITBULLS are NOT aggressive. 75 deaths??? lets look at humans first. dogs don't know any better and people do and yet people get way more leaniancy

lynn
lynn like.author.displayName 1 Like

wow, boulder obviously has smarter ways to go about lowering dog bites than denver. reminds me of the story we wrote on calgary, they take the same common sense approach.

http://network.bestfriends.org...

when will denver wake up and realize the breed ban is not working and is only killing innocent, healthy dogs?

Canuck
Canuck

Excellent Approach Boulder.Sounds very similar to Calgary Alberta Canada.Encourage responsible Ownership of all Breeds rather than just exterminating certain Breed types.

http://saveourdogs.net/2009/08...

Like Bill Bruce says"�We don�t have a pet problem. We have a people problem.� This is an opening statement Bill Bruce often uses to grab everyone�s attention."

Rebekka
Rebekka

I really appreciate this approach. In my household we follow a no tolerance policy regarding dog aggression towards people and other animals. My Stafforshire/Mastiff mix is a canine good citizen. We continually train in obedience and manners in ensure that she continues to be a valuable part of our community. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding. Good to see places like Boulder have their priorities straight and are addresses the core issue, not blanketing the issue on to a specific breed.

Fayclis
Fayclis

An intelligent nd thought provoking article.

To face this kind of discrimination is so sad when one people are responsible, fine upstanding citizens.

Makes me wonder when human kind will ever come out of the dark ages.

 
Loading...