Kevin O'Connell was away on business when he got a call from a Denver animal-control officer: His dog, a Presa Canario, had mauled a Chihuahua. O'Connell, a civil engineer who lives in Thornton, had left his two dogs with a friend who lives in Denver; he gave the officer his friend's address. Then his friend called: She said that animal-control officers had shown up at her house, but instead of impounding the Presa Canario, they'd taken his other dog, Dexter, who'd been in her back yard.

"What?" O'Connell replied. "Why?"

"They say he's a pit bull."

Heidi Tufto moved out of Denver after one of her pit bulls was impounded. See more photos from inside "Pit Bull Row" on the Latest Word.
Heidi Tufto moved out of Denver after one of her pit bulls was impounded. See more photos from inside "Pit Bull Row" on the Latest Word.
Doug Kelley is head of Denver Animal Care and Control.
Doug Kelley is head of Denver Animal Care and Control.
The euthanasia room at the Denver shelter.
Anthony Camera
The euthanasia room at the Denver shelter.


Related: Boulder takes a bite out of bad dog behavior. Also: See photos from Pit Bull Row and more on Kiernan Maletsky contributed to the research for this story.

In Denver, the pit bull's criminal status dates back to May 8, 1989, when Wilbur Billingsley headed to the store to pick up some items for his wife. He'd only gotten as far as the alley behind his home in Denver's San Rafael neighborhood when a dog attacked him. Billingsley, a 58-year-old evangelical pastor, fell to the ground, and the dog started ripping into his legs.

Billingsley's neighbor, architect Norman Cabel, heard what he later described to reporters as a "high-pitched wail" and ran out into the alley, where he saw a dog "chewing on" Billingsley's leg. Cabel found a two-by-four nearby and began hitting the animal, but it didn't react. So Cabel ran back into his house, grabbed his 20-gauge shotgun and ran back out. Now the dog was dragging Billingsley by the arm. Cabel's hands were shaking so badly it was difficult to load the shells into the shotgun, but he still shot the dog dead. The pastor suffered more than seventy bites and two broken legs, including a shattered right kneecap, in the attack.

The dog, a five-year-old pit bull named Tate, had escaped from a yard two doors down from Billingsley's home. The day after the attack, Tate's owner, David Martinez, told a reporter that he was baffled by the dog's violent outburst. "We never had any problems with him at home," he said.

This was not Denver's first high-profile pit bull attack. In October 1986, a three-year-old boy had wandered onto a neighbor's property in southwest Denver, where he'd been bitten to death by a pit bull. The next year, Denver City Council had enacted an ordinance ordering that any dog that bit a human be labeled a "dangerous dog," and confined by its owner in a nine-foot pen. After the Billingsley incident, though, animal-control officials warned that this law wasn't strong enough to deal with pit bulls. Sergeant Curtis Bradley, head of the municipal animal-control division, told Denver City Council that 81 people in the city had reported pit bull attacks in 1988, with 35 more in the first four months of 1989.

The mauling of a seven-year-old Miami girl by a pit bull in February 1989 had inspired Dade County, Florida, to pass a measure banning pit bulls entirely. Now councilmembers Ramona Martinez and Mary DeGroot urged Denver to adopt a similar ban. Crafting such an ordinance was a challenge, because what is known conversationally as a "pit bill" isn't so much a specific breed of dog as a general type that could include as many as half a dozen officially recognized breeds. So a proposal was drafted that defined a pit bull as any dog displaying the majority of the physical traits of an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Staffordshire Terrier or a Staffordshire Bull Terrier — or "any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds."

Hundreds of residents packed a public hearing to discuss the measure in July 1989, with some presenting tearful testimony about their beloved dogs and others recounting pit bull attacks in gruesome detail. It was one of the most contentious hearings in council history.

Then-council president Cathy Reynolds still recalls "the hysteria of the moment," she says. "It used to be the whole drug culture was using these dogs. Every hoodie-looking person would be walking around with two pit bulls with chains around their necks. And everybody had an anecdotal story about these mad animals attacking people." She was the only councilmember to vote against the ban, which was signed into law by Mayor Federico Peña that August. "It was so emotional," she adds. "There was no way you could stop it."

A group of animal organizations led by the Colorado Dog Fanciers did their best, filing suit against the city. But in 1992, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Denver had a rational basis for outlawing pit bulls. The decision focused on the city's argument that the characteristics bred into the animals by dog fighters — characteristics such as strength, tenacity and a certain unpredictability in their signs of aggression — meant that pit bull attacks had the potential to be "more severe and more likely to result in fatalities."

This ruling encouraged other municipalities to enact laws of their own regulating or prohibiting the possession of certain breeds, almost always in the wake of a headline-grabbing dog mauling. A website that maintains a state-by-state directory of such laws lists 415 cities and counties that today have some type of prohibition aimed at a specific breed of dog. But while a wide variety of breeds are involved in dog attacks, the vast majority of these laws — which range from requiring owners to carry insurance to mandates that dogs attend obedience training — target pit bulls.

Still, Denver's ban remains the toughest in the nation, and the city also has a reputation as the country's toughest enforcer. Proponents of such laws use Denver as the model for how a city can protect citizens from vicious pit bull attacks. But for animal-welfare groups, veterinary associations and many dog lovers, Denver is the prime example of everything that is inhumane, unjust and backward about trying to solve a problem as complex as aggressive dog behavior by simply criminalizing an entire breed type.

After all, they ask, is there any evidence that Denver's pit bull ban has worked? After twenty years, several expensive court challenges (one ongoing), hundreds of thousands in enforcement costs, an estimated 3,497 pit bulls put to death and over 5,000 dog owners ticketed, are Denver residents any safer from dog bites and attacks than people living in cities without pit bull bans?

Denver Animal Care and Control head Doug Kelley has testified in support of the ban in the past. But in recent years, his assessment has grown more measured. "Has it worked? I'm not sure if we can answer that question," he says. "What we do know is that, since the ordinance was put into effect, we haven't had a severe mauling or fatality from a pit bull in Denver."

Asked about the success of the ordinance, Mayor John Hickenlooper also points out that the city hasn't seen a serious mauling or death involving a banned breed since 1989. "Whether the ban works depends on what side of the argument you're on," he notes in an e-mailed statement.

There have been fatal dog attacks in Denver, though: In June 1998, eleven-month-old Austin Cussins was bitten to death at his grandmother's house in the Harvey Park neighborhood by the family dog, which reports identified as a Rottweiler mix. Meanwhile, many Colorado cities — Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction — have never seen a fatal attack by a dog of any breed.

Denver has never done an audit of the pit bull ban, never conducted a study of how effective it has been, never established a commission to determine whether one of Denver's most controversial policies is actually accomplishing what it was created to do. But evidence from other sources suggests that after two decades of classifying pit bulls as public enemy number one, it could be time for Denver to redo its math.

Kevin O'Connell decided to cut his business trip short and return to Denver. When he finally reached someone at the shelter, he learned that Dexter had to undergo an evaluation to determine if he was a pit bull. Dexter wasn't a pit bull, O'Connell insisted; he was a four-year-old mutt adopted from Texas. But under Denver law, that didn't matter: Since Dexter had been picked up as a pit bull, he couldn't be released until after an evaluation.

"Then the guy on the phone told me I could pick him up if I just said he was a pit bull," O'Connell recalls. "But I didn't want to say he was a pit bull, because he's not." While Dexter might be safe in Thornton, which has no ban on pit bulls, O'Connell's job takes him to different cities. And with all of the new breed bans being enacted, some of them inspired by Denver's law, "I knew that if he gets labeled a pit bull now, I'm screwed," O'Connell says.

After ten days, O'Connell was finally allowed to collect Dexter. The dog looked sickly, and his owner suspected kennel cough. But there was a more worrisome diagnosis: Evaluators had determined that Dexter had enough pit bull characteristics to qualify as a banned breed, and O'Connell was given a summons to appear in Denver County Court. Before he could even take his dog home, the animal-control officer told him, he'd have to sign a form in front of a notary stating that he intended to remove the "pit bull" from Denver city limits. O'Connell drove to a notary's office and returned to the shelter with the form, only to learn that as a pit bull, Dexter would need to be muzzled from the door of the facility to his car.

"So I had to drive again to PetSmart to get a damn muzzle," O'Connell says. "But he's never needed a muzzle before, so I didn't know what size he wore. So I had to buy three."

On August 25, a hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the Denver City and County Building to demand that the city repeal its ban on pit bulls. The protesters, who'd been notified of the action through online forum boards and e-mail lists, carried signs decrying "breed profiling" and "dog racism." Some wore T-shirts printed with photos of children hugging pit bulls, while others carried dog collars to symbolize all the pit bulls that have been "exterminated" at the Denver shelter since the ban was enacted. The crowd ranged from twenty-somethings from Colorado Springs to grandfatherly fellows from Grand Junction; very few of them were from Denver. But then, most pit bull lovers have either moved out of this city or kept their pet preferences very quiet, making sure their dogs stay indoors or only taking them for walks at night.

"It's one of the oldest and one of the worst," Paula Terifaj says of Denver's ban. "It's failed." A veterinarian from California who helped organize the protest, she makes no effort to hide her disgust with the city. Terifaj helps run the website, which has posted billboards across town in hopes of shaming officials into loosening their strict enforcement of the ordinance, if not dropping the ban altogether.

But the lack of local voices is a major hurdle for breed-ban opponents. When Denver's ordinance was passed twenty years ago, any pit bulls already living in the city were grandfathered in, as long as their owners registered the dogs and had them tattooed with registration numbers; obtained $100,000 in liability insurance; installed eight-foot-high fences around their property and posted them with signs reading "PIT BULL DOG"; and muzzled their dogs when off the property. (If any of these grandfathered-in dogs had puppies, the law stated that they had to be removed from the city or "relinquished to the Animal Shelter for destruction.") Some 300 pit bulls were registered and allowed to remain in Denver, but by 2003, all of these dogs had died, closing the door on any legal reason for a pit bull to set paw in Denver.

Except for this original grandfather clause, under the ordinance owners whose dogs are found to be pit bulls have three choices: They can let their pets be euthanized by the city, they can send their dogs outside of the city — or they can leave Denver with their dogs. The ordinance even bars non-profit animal shelters such as MaxFund and the Denver Dumb Friend's League from accepting or adopting out pit bulls. Since 1992, the city has impounded 5,286 pit bulls.

Heidi Tufto was walking her pit bull in a park in west Denver in 2002 when a police van pulled up. Officers held her at gunpoint while animal control chased down her dog, she remembers: "There was this old Polish lady who saw the whole thing happen, and she was screaming at them, 'Gestapo! Gestapo!' in her thick accent. Which almost made me want to laugh because it was all so crazy. But at the same time, it was terrifying. They called my dog vicious because it was freaking out. But any dog would freak out in that situation." After securing her dog's release, Tufto, an Army staff sergeant, flew it out of state on a military transport, and she soon moved out of Denver herself. "I couldn't stay; it's like a police state," she says. Today she lives in Byers and is an outspoken activist against Denver's ban.

No matter where a pit bull caused trouble, each episode tightened enforcement in Denver. In 2003, a 41-year-old woman tending to her friend's horses on a farm in Elbert County was mauled to death by three roving pit bulls. The terrifying attack was covered extensively by the national media. Kelley says that calls to animal control of possible pit bulls in Denver jumped 50 percent. Then-state representative Debbie Stafford pushed through legislation to strengthen Colorado's dangerous-dog laws. "The initial intent was to make sure that pet owners are held legally responsible on first bite," says Stafford. But in the process of speaking with animal experts, she and her co-sponsor added a provision that would prevent local governments from having breed-specific regulations. Governor Bill Owens quickly signed the bill into law.

But Denver filed suit just as quickly, with city council instructing the city attorney's office to sue the state on the grounds that the Colorado constitution protects the ability of a home-rule municipality to create and maintain its own laws. Although a Denver District Court judge agreed with Denver on the home-rule issue, he allowed the Colorado Attorney General's Office to pursue its argument that, in the fourteen years since the Colorado Dog Fanciers decision, new research on dog bites and attacks could be presented as proof that pit bull bans are irrational.

Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson argued Denver's case, saying the ban was justified not necessarily because evidence showed that pit bulls bite more frequently, but because the history and physiological traits of the breed make pit bulls more likely to cause severe injury and death if they do bite, comparing pit bull attacks to shark bites.

In April 2005, the judge ruled that the state had failed to prove that Denver had no rational basis for prohibiting pit bulls. The ban would stay.

Denver had suspended enforcement of the ordinance while it took the fight to court, and during the year it took for the lawsuit to play out, hundreds of pit bulls were brought back into Denver. Now officials sent letters to known pit bull owners, informing them that enforcement would begin again in two months. The day after that deadline, animal control vans with police backup spread across the city, rounding up dozens of the dogs. Others were dropped off at the shelter by owners who didn't want to run afoul of the law. In 2005 and 2006, more than 1,900 pit bulls were impounded in the city animal shelter, and 1,453 of them were put down.

Since that 2005 decision, Nelson has traveled the country, speaking to public-policy groups about the ordinance, and has even fired off unsolicited letters to cities considering breed bans, pitching himself as a national expert on the legalities of breed bans. He declined to be interviewed by Westword for this story, since his current job duties are unrelated to the pit bull ban. "I have no authority from my superiors to speak to you about it," he wrote.

Nelson isn't part of the city's team fighting the latest breed-ban suit. In 2007, Sonya Dias and three other pit bull owners who'd moved out of the city because of the ban filed a class-action lawsuit against Denver on the grounds that the ordinance violated their constitutional rights. In May, the case was accepted by the federal appeals court.

Other Colorado cities with breed bans include Castle Rock, Commerce City, Fort Lupton, La Junta, Lone Tree, Louisville and Wellington. Aurora passed a ban in 2005 that prohibits not just pit bulls but eight other breeds, including Presa Canarios and bull mastiffs. Nancy Sheffield, Director of Aurora's Neighborhood Services department says that city's ban has reduced the number of stray and abused dogs coming into the shelter, and also lowered the number of dog bites from restricted breeds. "It's worked," she says. "It accomplished what we set out to do."

Denver officials, too, stand by their ban. While out-of-state activists have tried to influence local politicians for years, signing petitions and even encouraging a boycott of the city, many officials regard their campaign as little more than boring background noise. "A lot of it comes from California, sometimes even from other countries," says Charlie Brown, Denver City Council's most vocal supporter of the pit bull ban. Brown estimates that he's received upwards of forty pro-pit bull letters so far this year, and more frequent e-mails. "The tone is never pleasant," he notes. "They're threatening, 'We're never going to come to your city.' That's fine; they can vote with their feet. My local constituents support this. I'll bet if you put this on the ballot, it would pass overwhelmingly to continue the ban."

When she ran for the District 5 council seat in 2006, Carla Madison supported the ban. "I would see how gangbangers had abused pit bulls," she remembers. "I thought it was a way to protect dogs from bad owners." But she changed her mind after learning about dangerous-dog laws that punish owners for their pets' bad behavior rather than targeting a specific breed. Ideally, Madison says, she'd push for complete repeal of the current ban on pit bulls. But since she doesn't think a repeal is feasible in the current political climate — none of her colleagues have signed on to ban the ban — she's instead crafting a proposal that would allow pit bulls in Denver under regulations similar to those that applied to dogs grandfathered in back in 1989. Under Madison's proposed ordinance, pit bull owners would also have to obtain $1 million in insurance and take their dogs to obedience classes.

Brown, who's said that the pit bull's "genetic code" makes it more likely to attack, doesn't like Madison's proposal one bit. "The word 'obedience' and pit bulls — to me, there's a disconnect there," he says. "If I took my young dog to obedience school and saw a pit bull, I'd turn and walk out."

If owners are willing to jump through such hoops, Madison argues, it's unlikely they'd be negligent. "Essentially, it would still be illegal to have a pit bull in Denver unless you have a permit," she points out.

But what, exactly, is a pit bull?

Aaron McSpadden is one of six full-time evaluators charged with determining whether a dog qualifies as a pit bull under the city's ordinance. "We're basically examining the dog, nose to toes," he says. He spent four years as an animal-control officer for Denver before deciding to opt into a certification program that would train him for this job.

It's rare in Denver for animal-control officers to spot possible pit bulls running around loose. Most of the time, the division receives calls from residents about a pit bull in a neighbor's yard and an officer is dispatched. "Then they get over there and it's a Boston Terrier," says Doug Kelley. But if the officer believes that probable cause exists that the animal is a pit bull, they cite the owner and impound the dog into a section of the shelter called "pit bull row." Here, each dog must be reviewed by three evaluators, all working separately; this process can take up to three days.

"We have a checklist that we go down and look at each characteristic of the dog," McSpadden explains. The checklist includes the dog's overall size, its weight, the muzzle width, the broadness of the chest, the tail and the size and shape of the paw. "We are looking at the overall breed of the dog," he says.

According to McSpadden, pit bulls belong to the "bully breed" that include not just the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but large, powerful working dogs like Cane Corsos and Presa Canarios, as well as smaller and stouter American Bulldogs and even the diminutive French Bulldogs. Originally these bully-breed dogs were used in bull-baiting fights in England in the 1800s; when that sport was banned, promoters had the dogs fight each other instead. Some breeds evolved into what today are considered pit bulls. Yet most of the dogs that arrive at the Denver shelter are mixes of some type; they rarely fit the purebred definitions of the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.

So a dog could look like a pit bull but actually be a mix with a bulldog.

"I'll look and see maybe a mastiff/Lab mix. Or it's a Fila, but it's got some characteristics of a Corso," McSpadden says. So he'll fill out the checklist and then make a determination whether the dog has the majority of the characteristics of a pit bull. Two other evaluators will do the same, then submit their reports to the shelter's "pit bull desk." If two out of three evaluations conclude that the dog's not a pit bull, the owner gets the dog back after paying a five-dollar-per-day boarding fee. If the majority of the evaluators think it is a pit bull, in order to get the dog back, the owner must pay a $45-per-day impoundment fee, a $5-per-day-impoundment fee, a $25 microchip fee, the fine for the illegal-breed citation, and provide a legally binding statement that the dog will be relocated outside city limits within a certain time period. If a dog identified as a pit bull is picked up in Denver for a second time, an owner loses all rights.

It costs the city $90 a week to house a single dog; it costs $21.50 to euthanize a dog. Since the ban was enacted, the city has euthanized an estimated 3,497 pit bulls.

An owner can dispute the city's designation of a dog as a pit bull by requesting an administrative hearing, during which the owner can present evidence on the dog's lineage and the city explains its own evaluation.

The evaluation checklist involves only physical characteristics, not behavior, and the evaluation does not consider anything related to an animal's temperament. The dog might be jumpy and aggressive, or it might be mellow and sweet. It might have bitten people before, or it might be a well-trained family pet that has never released an angry bark. Does that matter?

"Yes and no," McSpadden says. "What I see is there are responsibilities that come with every type of dog. If you have a bully breed, they have a lot of energy, they're very strong and very powerful. You have to be able to control the dog, secure the dog, know its quirks. It's like how you can go into a gun store and you can buy a handgun or a rifle after a ten-day waiting period, but you can't buy a bazooka. Why? Because the bazooka is designed to destroy and has the potential to inflict a lot more damage. That's how I think about it with the breed ban."

Firearms killed over 30,000 people in the United States in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, dogs kill 23 people per year. Of those, six are killed by pit bulls. As a health hazard, pit bulls rate below bees, lightning and mooses in the number of deaths for which they're responsible. But they're also by far the greatest cause of fatal animal maulings in this country. According to a 2000 CDC study, pit bull-type dogs were involved in 76 deadly attacks between 1979 and 1998; Rottweilers came in second, at fifty.

Still, is this because the dogs are inherently vicious — or because their owners are? In her book The Pit Bull Placebo, New Jersey-based writer Karen Delise notes that killings by breed are clustered in certain time periods. In the late 1990s, many fatalities were attributed to Rottweilers; most pit bull attacks occurred in the mid-to-late 1980s. Go back to the 1970s, though, and Doberman Pinschers were the most likely killers.

According to Daniel Estep, an applied animal behaviorist in Denver who often provides expert testimony in dog-bite cases, this reflects that certain breeds shift in and out of "what's popular among irresponsible people at any one time."

In her book, Delise tracks how different breeds have been fetishized during different eras by people interested in projecting an image of masculinity and toughness. People who choose dogs for these reasons alone are not typically the most responsible pet owners, she points out, and are likely to inculcate their dogs with aggressive behavior.

Nearly every major animal-welfare group, from the Humane Society of the United States to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, advocates dangerous-dog laws that punish negligent pet owners rather than overarching bans on entire breeds. Even the authors of the CDC study caution cities against enacting laws based on breed. "Breed-specific legislation does not address the fact that a dog of any breed can become dangerous when bred or trained to be aggressive," it says. And most major cities, including San Francisco, New York and Chicago, have forgone breed bans in favor of beefing up laws that punish owners of any dangerous dogs. Denver may be tough on pit bulls, but its general rules regarding dangerous dogs fall below national recommendations. Currently, non-pit bull dogs in Denver must bite or cause other injury to a person or another animal before a citation can be written.

The Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs, a Colorado group comprising veterinary and animal-welfare organizations, conducted a survey in 2007 of dog-bite information collected by municipalities across the state. The study, released this past March, found that the greatest number of bites came from Labrador Retrievers, then pit bulls, then German Shepherds and Chow Chows. More telling were the circumstances of the dog bites: Children were most often the victims, and the culprits were usually dogs that had not been neutered, were running at large, were tethered or had been cited previously for biting.

In Denver, dog bites have dropped dramatically over the past twenty years, from 1,146 in 1990 to 305 in 2008. Although this period coincides with the pit bull ban, it also reflects a national trend. In the 1960s and '70s, Delise points out, New York City logged 35,000 to 40,000 dog bites a year; today that number is down to about 3,500 annually. The drop can also be seen in places like Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Delise credits the reduction in bites to a general shift in how Americans treat their dogs, as well things like leash ordinances and animal-cruelty laws — initiatives that apply to all breeds.

"So we had a system that was working — increased education, more humane care and control in the custody of our dogs, obeying leash laws, not letting your dog run loose," she says. "We were on the right track. Then we became distracted by this breed stuff."

Even Doug Kelley, who worked for Lakewood's animal control before becoming the director of Denver's animal control in 2000, attributes Denver's decline in bites not to the pit bull ban, but to metro-wide spay and neutering efforts and better enforcement of the city's non-breed-specific laws, such as calls for dogs at large. Back in the late '80s, gangs of stray dogs roamed Denver. "In the '80s, we were impounding 30,000 to 40,000 dogs a year," says Kelley. "But now not only do you not have gangs of dogs, you don't have perpetually at-large dogs that are just kind of out running loose." Supporters of pit bull bans argue that while the breed may not bite the most, its bites are more severe. But this argument doesn't mesh with statistics compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A person bitten by a dog in Denver is much more likely to go to the hospital than a person bitten in Boulder, Jefferson, Broomfield and El Paso counties, none of which ban pit bulls. In fact, Denver has the highest rate of hospitalization for dog bites of any county in the state. Not everyone who gets bitten by a dog will go to the doctor; one study found that only 80 percent of dog bites were severe enough to warrant a hospital visit. But even though Denver residents are reporting the same or fewer dog bites per capita than residents of neighboring cities, they're going to the hospital more often — which suggests that their bites are worse. And that's not because of pit bulls.

Could Denver find a better way of identifying dangerous dogs? Portland, Oregon, a city of similar size, was also the site of a pit bull attack in 1986 that resulted in the death of a child: a five-year-old boy who was fatally mauled in suburban Multinomah County. Like Denver, Portland became embroiled in a debate over how to deal with vicious breeds. Unlike Denver, Portland convened a task force of veterinarians, health officials, animal behaviorists and animal-control officers to study potential animal-control ordinances. Rather than slap a ban on a single breed, the commission recommended that the law be adjusted to allow animal-control officers to take action against the owner of a dog that was displaying certain aggressive behaviors and label the animal a "potentially dangerous dog" before it caused serious injury to a human. As a result, Portland created a model with five levels of severity, starting with any dog, running loose, that "menaces, chases, displays threatening or aggressive behaviors" against a human or other animal. Each level involves potential for a greater punitive action against the owner, as well as certain requirements for the dog. At the highest level, reserved for a dog that's caused serious injury to a person, the animal is to be euthanized, and officials have the additional option of suspending the owner's right to possess a dog.

Portland's law was put into effect in 1986. Five years later, a study found that Portland had classified 1,652 dogs as potentially dangerous. The breed with the most such classifications was the German Shepherd, followed by the pit bull, then the Labrador Retriever and the Doberman. If Portland had simply banned pit bulls after the killing of a child, it might have missed the aggressive German Shepherds. More significant, it might have punished good owners (and dogs) for the sins of the bad. The program also reduced the amount of repeat biters by 257 percent.

While Wilbur Billingsley was rushed to Denver General for emergency surgery on his legs, police and animal-control investigators looked into Tate's history. Despite his owner's assertion that he'd never had a problem with the dog, it turned out that Tate was a very bad dog, indeed: He'd bitten three people in the previous three years. Tate had twice bitten the hands of adults. The third time, he'd bitten the hand of an eight-year-old neighbor so severely that the child spent three weeks in the hospital. Animal control had cited the owner for the bites and told him to keep the dog in an enclosed structure. Instead, Martinez — a twenty-year-old custodian at the time — had simply chained Tate in the back yard, but he continued to break free. Just three days before the attack on Billingsley, Cabel told reporters, his eleven-year-old daughter and her friends had been playing in the alley when the dog leapt at the fence, which barely managed to hold.

After getting Dexter safely back to his home in Thornton, O'Connell decided to pay the $50 hearing fee to dispute Denver's determination that the dog is a pit bull. "He was picked up from a yard for doing nothing, and he was charged and judged for something he's not," he points out. O'Connell called a lawyer friend who agreed to represent him. He also had Dexter reviewed by two dog breed experts, one a certified American Kennel Club judge, the other a judge with the United Kennel Club, and they both determined that he is "definitely not a pit bull."

O'Connell was looking forward to his day in court last Friday. He had an affidavit from one of the experts; the other was going to appear in person. He had his whole argument planned, one that he was sure would free Dexter from pit bull profiling. But on his drive to Denver, he got a call from his attorney. The hearing officer had the flu, so justice for Dexter would have to wait.

In the meantime, O'Connell decided he'd find a way to make things right with the owners of the Chihuahua that his Presa Canario had mauled. "I guess he was so messed up after my dog got him that they had to put him to sleep," he says.

He won't be making amends in court, however. Since the owner of the dead dog declined to sign a complaint, O'Connell never even got a ticket for the real attack dog.

Kiernan Maletsky contributed to the research for this story. To find out more about Denver's pit bull ban, go to Contact the author at

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breed identification by visual inspection—let alone by eye witness reports—is all but useless. That is further demonstrated by the fact that when the breed of a dog involved in an incident is determined by two separate sources, media and animal control, for example, they are often not in agreement. Reliable ID is made in only 17% of cases. “Results—Major co-occurrent factors for the 256 DBRFs included absence of an able-bodied person to intervene (n = 223 [87.1%]), incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs (218 [85.2%]), owner failure to neuter dogs (216 [84.4%]), compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (198 [77.4%]), dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs (195 [76.2%]), owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs (96 [37.5%]), and owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs (54 [21.1%]). Four or more of these factors co-occurred in 206 (80.5%) deaths. For 401 dogs described in various media accounts, reported breed differed for 124 (30.9%); for 346 dogs with both media and animal control breed reports, breed differed for 139 (40.2%). Valid breed determination was possible for only 45 (17.6%) DBRFs; 20 breeds, including 2 known mixes, were identified."


I find it bewildering how the foamers gloss over some facts and leave others right out for instance actual APBT's that were fought in the pits, they didn't spend their days lounging around on the couch, they weren't chained up 24/7 these animals were kept to a strict diet and exercise regime similar to that any sports man/woman would use to maintain fitness and match readiness. They spent long hours running on treadmills and hanging off what they call spring polls which improve their ability to grip, how many family pets engage in such demanding exercise and training, this training is what gave those dogs the explosive power and endurance and strength to grip and compete,once again how many family pitbulls undergo such intense training and exercise regime?? According to foamers all this training and dieting is genetically inbred too?? lol!


Objective—To examine potentially preventable factors in human dog bite–related fatalities (DBRFs) on the basis of data from sources that were more complete, verifiable, and accurate than media reports used in previous studies.

Design—Prospective case series.

Sample—256 DBRFs occurring in the United States from 2000 to 2009.

Procedures—DBRFs were identified from media reports and detailed histories were compiled on the basis of reports from homicide detectives, animal control reports, and interviews with investigators for coding and descriptive analysis.

Results—Major co-occurrent factors for the 256 DBRFs included absence of an able-bodied person to intervene (n = 223 [87.1%]), incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs (218 [85.2%]), owner failure to neuter dogs (216 [84.4%]), compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (198 [77.4%]), dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs (195 [76.2%]), owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs (96 [37.5%]), and owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs (54 [21.1%]). Four or more of these factors co-occurred in 206 (80.5%) deaths. For 401 dogs described in various media accounts, reported breed differed for 124 (30.9%); for 346 dogs with both media and animal control breed reports, breed differed for 139 (40.2%). Valid breed determination was possible for only 45 (17.6%) DBRFs; 20 breeds, including 2 known mixes, were identified.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these. Study results supported previous recommendations for multifactorial approaches, instead of single-factor solutions such as breed-specific legislation, for dog bite prevention.


Proponents of breed bans, such as Denver Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson, instead argue that pit bulls are more dangerous because, when they do bite, the injuries they inflict are more serious. So we looked at figures gathered by the Colorado Department of Public and Environment on hospitalization rates for dogs by county. From 1995 to 2006, more people sought medical attention for dog bites in Denver County than anywhere else in the state. Counties without pit bull bans -- Boulder, El Paso and Jefferson -- showed fewer people going to the hospital dog bites.Are bites from pit bulls more severe?


Bite severity by breed (click to enlarge)

The Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs, a Colorado group made up of veterinary associations and animal welfare groups, gathered information from animal control divisions across the state. Their report found that the severity of pit bull bites -- 1 being a "bruising" and 5 being a "maul (serious bodily injury)" -- was about the same as bites from breeds such as Australian Cattle Dogs and Akitas, and below breeds such as American Bull Dogs, Dalmatians and Dachshunds. 


hat is notable is the significant drop in dog bites of all breeds, from 1,146 in 1990 to 305 in 2008. Animal control officials attribute this decrease in total bites to increased enforcement of Denver's non-breed specific dog laws and county-wide spaying and neutering efforts.

Some studies on dog bites show pit bulls and Rottweilers as inflicting the most reported bites; others show Golden Retrievers, Labs and Chow Chows as causing the most. But is this because these breeds bite more often or because more of these dogs are represented in a given area? Since there's no reliable doggy census, it's nearly impossible to know if one breed bites more often than another.


Dogs can become aggressive for any number of reasons - fear, dominance, guarding possessions. No matter the reason for the dog aggression, the body language of a dog can let you know if he is about to bite. Knowing what to look for can help you prevent dog bites.

1. Growling and Snapping

Growling and snapping are probably the most obvious signs that a dog is about to bite. Dogs growlor snap to let you know they are unhappy or uncomfortable. If a dog growls or snaps at you when you approach him, it's time to give him some space.

Growling and snapping can be helpful, too. Pay attention to the times your dog growls or snaps. Does it happen when you approach him when he's eating, when strangers approach, or when you touch him while he's asleep? Knowing what elicits the growling and snapping allows you to manage the problem and work on changing the behavior.

2. Wagging Tail

This is one of the signs that many people find surprising. Dog trainers often hear dog owners comment that their dog was wagging his tail right up until the moment he bit someone. But pay attention to the way your dog wags his tail.

A happy dog may wag his tail and get his whole body involved. A dog who is about to bite is usually fairly rigid, and his tail will be pointed high and moving more quickly back and forth. This may be a sign of an impending dog bite.

More Info3. Raised Fur

When dogs are afraid or overly stimulated, you may see the hair on their backs stand up. In some dogs, just the hair on the back of the neck between the shoulders stands up. Other dogs have it at the neck and also near their tails. Still other dogs may have a ridge of hair that stands up down the entire length of their backs. If you notice a dog has his hackles raised, it's a signal that he needs you to back off.

4. Rigid Body Posture

Often when a dog is about to become aggressive, his body language is a dead giveaway - no pun intended. A comfortable, happy dog usually has a relaxed body with his ears low and a happy, wagging tail. An aggressive dog is just the opposite. His entire body may go stiff, and his ears and tail are raised high. If you reach out to pet a dog, and his entire body freezes rather than wiggling to get closer, he is not happy with being touched. It's time to move away to make him more comfortable.

5. Lip Licking, Yawning and Averting Gaze

If you notice a dog is licking his lips (when food is not involved), yawning repeatedly, or turning his head to avoid meeting your gaze, he is trying to tell you something. Dogs engage in these behaviors to let you know they are uncomfortable with something going on around them. For instance, a dog who has never been around children may lick his lips or yawn when a child comes over to pet him. It does not necessarily mean that he is about to bite, but it is a warning that he is not comfortable. A dog who is uncomfortable, afraid, or stressed is more likely to bite. Your best bet when a dog uses one of these appeasement gestures is to try to alleviate his discomfort.

6. Cowering and Tail Tucking

Cowering and tail tucking are more overt signs than lip licking or yawning that you are dealing with a fearful dog. While fearful dogs don't always bite, fear does increase the likelihood. If you encounter a dog who cowers away from you with his tail tucked between his legs, back off. Let him approach you in his own time, and he'll be less likely to feel the need to bite to defend himself.

7. Seeing the Whites of the Eyes

Many dog trainers refer to this as whale eye. You'll see the whites of a dog's eye when he moves his head slightly, but doesn't move his eyes. A half moon of white will show around the dog's eyes. Whale eye is a sign of anxiety in dogs. It's an expression many animal shelter workers are familiar with. Again, this doesn't necessarily mean that a dog is about to bite. It means that a dog is feeling anxious, and anxious dogs are more likely to bite. If you see a dog showing the whites of his eyes, it's a good idea to give him some space until he feels more relaxed.


It is important to understand the causes of dog bite injuries before you can attempt to think of the preventive measures or ways to at least reduce the bites if not completely stop the bites.

Having discussed the possible reasons why puppies bite we will now be discussing the reasons why dogs bite. However, you must surely know that a biting puppy that’s not taught bite inhibition will almost certainly turn into a biting older dog. Dogs will bite as a result of the following reasons among others.

1. Dominance and Authority

Dogs will bite to establish leadership and order within their rank. They’re being assertive by using their teeth to determine who is the strongest, and will to power are genetic behavior traits which are peculiar to all canine groups. This dominance behavior being demonstrated by dogs is as a result of survival instinct. They feel they are in charge and need to keep other members of their group along without excluding other people, in most cases will be the member of family of the dogowner and neighbors.

2. Warning Message

Dogs usually send warning notes in the form of non-serious bites before any serious attack. If you step over a dog who's resting or try to move a dog off the bed for any purpose you should know what to expect.

3. Security and Protection:

Some dogs feel insecure as a result of some of human actions like invading a dog's territory, riding on his back like pony, showing off with ferocious displays, blowing puffs of air in his face, taking her food or disturbing a mother dog and her puppies. They believe these human actions can cause them harm.

It could also be from being continuously chained. Continuous chaining of dog can cause physiological problem and thus the affected dog may not know how to behave when it's released. So in other to protect themselves, they result to aggressive acts like biting.

4. Lack of good/positive training

Dog bites are a result of the lack of good and positive training. Why do I say this? Some dog owners employ forceful, fear inducing and painful training methods. Your dog will perceive this as threatening their life and result to aggressive acts in order to protect herself.

Others will bite out of fun and when they are over excited. Both cases are mostly as a result of lack of positive training. So if you don’t properly socialize your dog with people or other dogs, expect bites any time.

5. Fear Biting

Just like human beings, if a dog is in any threatening situation they will feel the need to protect themselves. This is often directed toward strangers. Incidents like threatening a dog or its family, bending over it when it's resting, hugging it when it's sleeping, teasing and awakening a dog will surely cause a bite as a response to these actions.

6. Physical Pain

Depending on the degree of pain, a dog will bite a beloved owner, member of the family or neighbors when suffering from physical problems like chemical imbalances in the brain, external infections like otitis, tumor, hip dysphasia among others.

A fighting dog is sure to be in a serious painful condition and attempt to break the fight by pullingthe dog will possibly result in a bite.

How to Recognize Dog Bite Warning Signs

Before any dog bites he will give warning signs which, if apprehended, can prevent a bite at all. They usually make sure that these warnings are very clear using body language whenever they feel frightened or threatened by situations.

It's advisable to watch and listen to the warning signs a dog gives you when he is upset. Let me make it clear here once again that a healthy dog will never bite without being provoked. However, if your dog bites without provocation, seek professional help immediately.

Below are some of warning signs your dog gives which you have to notice:

• When a dog's ears are pulled back against his head.

• When his legs are very stiff.

• When dog's fur is raised up, his ears erect and tail high.

• When a dog growls and barks aggressively with his teeth showing.

• When a dog is intensely looking directly at a human's face.

• When a dog licks his chops while you approach or interact with him.

• When a dog suddenly starts scratching or licking himself.

• When a dog lowers its tail (held stiffly) and wags it slowly.

• When dog is standing forward and up on its toes. (unclear)

• When a dog's body is stiff and leans forward toward the target.

• When snarling with its teeth uncovered.

• When the dog is cowering.

• When a dog’s tail is tucked completely under his body.

• When a dog is ill or old.

• When a dog turns his head away from you.

• When a dog yawns while you are approaching.


“Pit bull” is not a breed, but a “type” that encompasses several registered breeds and crossbreeds. Therefore, statistics that claim “Pit bulls” are responsible for some percentage of attacks are lumping many separate breeds of dogs together, then comparing those statistics to other dogs that are counted as individual breeds. There are currently 25 breeds that are commonly considered a “pit bull”.

Myth: Pit Bulls or Pit Bull type dogs are human aggressive by nature.

Fact: Studies by the Center for Disease Control have proven that no one breed of dog is inherently vicious. The CDC supports the position that irresponsible owners, NOT breed, is the number one cause of dog bites. 

Myth: Pit Bulls or Pit Bull type dogs are inherently vicious.

Fact: No more vicious than Golden Retrievers, Beagles, or other popular “family” dogs. In a recent testing done by The American Canine Temperament Testing Society (ATT), pit bulls achieved a passing rate of 83.9%, passing 4th from the highest of 122 breeds. That’s better than Beagles, passing at 78.2 and Golden Retrievers passing at 83.2%. The average passing rate for ALL breeds is 77%.

Myth: Pit Bulls or Pit Bull type dogs are responsible for most fatal dog attacks.

Fact: From 1965 – 2001, there have been at least 36 different breeds/types of dog that have been involved in a fatal attack in the United States. (This number rises to at least 52 breeds/types when surveying fatal attacks worldwide).

When dog bite statistics are taken into consideration versus the population, “Pit Bulls” come in at the BOTTOM of the list.

Registered Population

# of Reported Attacks


% vs. Population

Approx. 240,000 12 Chow Chow .005%

Approx. 800,000 67 German Shepherd .008375%

Approx. 960,000 70 Rottweiler .00729%

Approx. 128,000 18 Great Dane .01416%

Approx. 114,000 14 Doberman .012288%

Approx. 72,000 10 St. Bernard .0139%

Approx. 5,000,000 60 Pit Bulls .0012%


Canine Genetics and Behavior

By Glen Bui, American Canine Foundation

“To state that a breed of dog is aggressive is scientifically impossible. Statistics do not support such a finding. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and within all breeds there can be dangerous dogs because of owner issues such as training the dog to attack, lack of training and socialization.

There is no such thing as the “Mean Gene” in dogs as well as in people. However, mutant genes have been discovered. Alteration of a single DNA base in the gene encoding an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) has been found to render the enzyme nonfunctional. This enzyme normally catalyzes reactions that metabolize the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and oradrenaline. What this does is cause slight mental impairment which interferes with the ability to cope with certain situations resulting in aggression. There is no proof and there never has been that the American Pit Bull Terrier possesses mutant genes. There is a one in ten thousand chance of a mutant gene appearing in a population.

Aggressiveness has many definitions and its stimulus of the environment that causes behavior. Dogs defend territory, they exhibit dominance and if allowed can become protective of their family. All this behavior can be controlled by the owner and aggression is mainly an act of behavior. To make claim that the American Pit Bull Terrier can cause more severe injury than other breeds is ludicrous. Over 30 breeds of dogs are responsible for over 500 fatal attacks in the last 30 years, every victim was severely injured. The American Pit Bull Terrier is clearly a useful member of society. The breed was World War One Hero and it’s rated as having one of the best overall temperaments in the United States (A.T.T.S.). The breed is used for dog show competitions, therapy, service work, search and rescue, police work and companionship. Man has domesticated dogs to the point they serve as companions, workers and even objects of beauty. Dogs will protect man, see for him, hunt for him and play. One breed is not more inherently good or evil, vicious, harmful or helpful. It is man who is responsible for the dog’s behavior, not the breed of dog. Those passing breed bans fail to understand that a mis-trained Pit Bull can be replaced with another breed. People determine whether dogs will be useful members of a community or a nuisance. It is the people who allow their dogs to become dangerous and legislators must control and punish the people.”  

Tommy Garrett
Tommy Garrett

This whole thing is repulsive and all of the people who are responsible will have to answer for what they have done at some point in their lives or by the ultimate judgement after. The idea of going over a dog for three days to decide if the dog fits a certain type is disgusting and i wonder if over the three days anyone checks these dogs for temperament . This country should be ashamed of it's self for allowing a travesty of this nature to happen in this day and age.What's next in Denver all the Irish must go to mandatory rehab for alcohol , or all Italiansget a life sentence for the Rico act. I'm also ashamed of all of all the responsible owners in Denver who have let these fascist's violate their right to fair process. Countless thousand's of Americans gave their live's paving the way so we could have a constitution and have rightsand to just let them walk all over them is shameful. But i guess we are just different over here in Boston ,maybe because this is where we fought to make America a free country i'm really not sure but I promise you this would not fly over here. And to suggest that a breed isrent born violent is as ignorant as people who used to say African Americans were not smart enoughto be Quarterbacks in the NFL, or had weak ankles so they could not play hockey in the NHL.Bottom line is people buy these dogs and put them in a pit to fight ,people abuse them ,people train them to attack, people are the ones who do not take the position of a responsibleowner and train & socialize these dogs and now people want to kill off their entire breed.Tell me who's really the monster. I challenge anyone to justify this, there is a estimated15 million registered Pitbull terriers in our country, so that means there is around 25 or 30 million pitbulls here so even if there was 20 death's a year by pitbulls how do you justify killing the other 99.99 % for the actions of a few dogs who i'm sure in most cases were abused or owned by criminals who worked at making these dogs dangerous.. I fully agree something need's to be done but this is not the answer & i really cant believe that nobody can come up with a better solution. Large fines for unregisted dogs and when you register them you have to bring themdown every year and have them evaluated if you put these types of restrictions on the breed these unsavory types of people would not bother owning them only the true lovers of the breed would want them. You could also clamp down on bad breeding ...also a huge problemthey are inbreeding ,crossbreeding,and god knows what else to make these genetic monstersthats how Pitbulls went from 30 to 55 lbs for over a hundred years and now they average70 ti 120 lbs and somehow they turned blue. Stand up for your selves Denver ...out east we Bostonian's have a saying ...Give me liberty or give me death ...and that is what it would take to take my dog & my rights from me. I have owned 4 Pitbulls over the last 27 years and everyone of them have been like family members and none of them have ever bitten meor eaten any children my newest one #5 his best friend is a cat who lives next door.Punish the ones responsible not the innocent... who are you to pass judgment on a animalfor a crime that has not been committed yet because thats what your doing by banning awhole breed. BSL is wrong it,s just a eazy way to make your selves feel like youve done somthing about the real problem...fix this mess before every thing we fought for in this country is lost. A concernd patriot.


Some of the comments below show that fear mongering works, good job Denver. It is interesting to note that Tate had a history of problems with other people. I'd be willing to bet that his owner was irresponsible. Ultimately it really comes down to human responsibility. We live in a society where "responsible" is practically blasphemous, and it is a death sentence for a lot of dogs, not just pit bulls. Human beings are the domestic animals worst enemy or best friend, depending on the persons willingness to be responsible and accountable. I was fearful of pit bulls too. I had heard the media blitz and bought it. I rescued a puppy three years ago who was kicked out of a car by an inbred. She's a pit. Instead of immediately getting rid of her, I did extensive research, became a responsible, loving and caring dog handler and she is a great dog. I live in one of the towns that was mentioned as having no pit bull attacks. There are a lot of pit bulls in my town, and everyone of us will tell you they are the best dogs we've ever had. Smart, loyal, friendly and fun. All because each one of us is a responsible, accountable and caring human being. It's that simple, folks. It is such a shame that we support victimhood and irresponsibility in this country over the other. It will be our undoing.


Breed specific legislature is racism...plain and simple. If we're not allowed to be racist towards each other with out reprecussions then it shouldn't be allowed towards dogs either. We are all God's creatures....I have an idea....EVERYTIME a dog(reguardless of the breed) bites or attacks a person or another dog, let's euthanize both the dog and it's owner. That'll put an end to all this bullshit.

Just me
Just me

To all the Pit Bull haters, you must not have read the whole article. In Oregon, German Shepherd Dogs are the most aggressive, then Pit Bulls, FOLLOWED BY LABS. There are MORE cases of severe dog bites ending in hospitalization in Denver, who HAS a Pit Bull ban, than the surrounding counties who do NOT have Pit Bull Bans. Little Rascals Petey was a Pit Bull, These famous people all had, or have, Pit Bulls.# Theodore Roosevelt# Woodrow Wilson# General George Patton# Helen Keller# Jamie Foxx# Rachael Ray# Jon Stewart# Ken Howard# Jessica Biel# Jessica Alba# Kevin Federline# Pink The Pit Bull dog, to this day, is the only breed of dog featured on the cover of Life magazine 3 times. Stubby, a Pit Bull, is the only K-9 who was promoted to the rank of SGT for services rendered on the battlefield. During WW1 and WW2 was on numerous recruiting and propaganda posters on top of gaining the nickname "nanny dog" for their history as great companion animals for children. American Temperament Testing Society give the rating of the following dogs Breed tested passed failed percentAMERICAN PIT BULL TERRIER 772 664 10886.0%AMERICAN STAFFORDSHIRE TERRIER608 510 9883.9%STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER 115 103 1289.6%GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG 3,038 2,559 47984.2%GOLDEN RETRIEVER 746 631 11584.6%CHIHUAHUA 38 27 1171.1%

The world's first face transplant recipient, Isabelle Dinoire, was mauled her sleep by her Labrador Retriever.Please do some research before shooting off at the mouth.

Gene Gregorits
Gene Gregorits

For anyone who may be swayed by the enormously pro-pit bull sentiment here, I urge you to DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. A few minutes of Google queries will yield recent pit bull statistics, which even the most intelligent pit bull defender conveniently fails to acknowledge. THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY EIGHT PEOPLE were ATTACKED BY PIT BULLS in 2009. Almost all of these injuries were severe, and at least 20 of these people are now dead. Quit screwing around with breed specifics and personal anecdotes, NONE OF THAT IS RELEVANT. The numbers speak for themselves.

If you insist on having one of these vile creatures and it attacks a human being, kiss your life goodbye for the next couple of years. Lawyers love dog bite cases, and while the population may be willfully ignorant about the reality of pit bulls, and the idiocy of owning them in a residential area, law enforcement feels slightly different about the dogs, because they actually SEE the damage they do, every week. In Detroit, cops have been running down packs of stray pits with their cruisers, because 911 calls from traumatized pet owners reporting yard or street attacks by pit bulls have become a near-daily occurrence. The entire breed needs to be WIPED OUT. To all pit bull victims: know that pit bull owners are as stubborn and as dangerous as their dogs. I recommend a couple of cheap steaks soaked in anti-freeze, and a move out of town if this tragedy befalls you. It's quicker and cheaper than what you'll have to deal with in bringing a pit owner up on criminal charges. They'll walk over their own mothers to defend their hateful, vicious dogs.


I wouldn't move to Denver for any reason because of this stupid law. And people who agree with it are just animal haters. If you are okay with killing one breed of dog, you must be okay with killing all breeds because ANY dog can be made to be mean, even taco bell dogs and weiner dogs,(actually I have been attacked more little dogs than any big dog) We just don't hear so much about the little dog that bit the kids nose off.The theory is that once you ban pit bulls, with includes ALL terrier breeds, then you have to go on to rottweillers, german sheperds, dobermans, chows, bull dogs, boxer, dalmations, and the list goes on. Because if you are a bad guy who wants a mean dog, any breed will do. So where does it end?It all goes back to how the dog is treated and socialized. My pit bull has been raised with kids and other dogs. She has never bit anything but her frisbee after 7 years. Lets focus more on stopping the dog fighters and criminal breeders and less on the family pet.


People that say that pit bulls should be banned and burn in heck =]


Not all pit bulls are mean they turn mean when you abuse them. I think its not right to ban pit bulls because there not really bad there more dogs that are meaner than pit bulls i have a three yr. old pit bull and he is not mean he's good around kids he whatch my brother makes sure he dont go any where he protect they family. I think that law is really just plain right out stupid. NOT ALL PIT BILLS ARE BAD!


They should all be banned...They are not really good for much


Stop BSL, its not like the dogs asked to act like that, and its not their fault. I've seen a lot of things happen with pit bulls and banning them wont help. Ban bad owners. Look at it this way, you suddenly get taken away from the only place you call home and from the only mom/dad you know. You're placed in a cage and you're surrounded by others just like you. You have no idea why you're there. You just know you're scared and you want to go home. Then you're taken into a bright room and you have 3 people around you... they stick a needle into you, you're breathing heavy and you're dizzy. Then everything goes black. You're dead. Its all your owners fault. For some its other people making the bad name for a pit bull. Next time you go to make a Law agaist Pit Bulls just think about this!

selwyn marock
selwyn marock

Jane I read your comment was a tad confused,were you referring to humans or pitbulls when you stated zero tolerance?For the record in the whole of the USA their are less than 20 fatal dog attacks per year(all breeds)Am quite sure if you buy any newspaper in Denver ,just last night in Denver there were more than 20 deaths caused by Drunke-drivers,Rapists,Drug-Dealers,Paediaphiles etc. etc etc.These crimes are being perpetrated by us, the master race,thehumans.In this department I do agree with you zero sure to this you were

selwyn marock
selwyn marock

"Hunt with the hounds and run with the hares"never was a saying more appropriate than watching that Genocidal Maniac Doug Kelley hugging a pitbull.He and the likes of Hinklepooper and the "self proclaimed war hero "K. Nelson will fight tooth and nail to keep BSL alive.After 20 years of creating this Murderous Screw-up in Denver,you are now asking them to admit failure,it wont happen easily you will have to VOTE them out.


HELLO???? Mauled a chihuahua!!!! Next stop, mauling and killing a two week old baby!!! These vicious animals need to be put down before they have a chance to do anymore harm than they already have. We need a zero tolerance against this type of violence.


I just don't have a lot of pity for the owners of some of these dogs. I think there should be some sort of training requirement to own one. My border collie mix, Lucy was mauled badly by an at-large pit bull who had escaped its owner at a nearby screen door as we walked on the sidewalk several yards away. I then found out that this same dog had nearly killed a pomeranian, the pet of a neighbor, the previous year AND the owners had already had a larger male dog taken from them and euthanized for attacking a landscape worker in our town home complex.

Sadly, this dog, named Blondie, was also taken from them and euthanized. They just didn't show any remorse or sense of responsibility or even LOVE for their dogs. I probably cried more for Blondie than her owners when I found out she'd died for their foolish irresponsibility!


In addition, I agree with the person who has commented above. I too complied with Boulder's dog regulations. Happily. The city of Denver must be spending ridiculous amounts of money housing and then euthanizing pit bulls. Imagine, instead, if they would have created a few extra Animal Control city positions, where Animal Control officers could check up on pit bull owners (to ensure no fighting is taking place) or implement training classes (more jobs created) for supposed "mean breeds." They could have even spent money AND created jobs testing purported "vicious" breed pit bulls for behavior issues. All of these options would have created jobs and allowed responsible, loving pit bull owners to keep their pet AND live in the city that they want to live in. I eventually wanted to move from Boulder to Denver but could not because of my dog. If ever there is a class action law suit against the city for infringment upon some of my basic human rights, I'll be the first to sign up.


I am in support of repealing the Denver pit bull ban. This breed of dog has been unfairly targeted. I lived in Boulder, CO for seven years and much of the sentiment toward the breed was present there as well. Now that I am in Phoenix, a city which seems to be pit bull friendly, I am relieved to walk my best friend (with a leash) and not get the comments and dirty looks that I often got in Boulder. I am submitting a link to an article below that includes some of my thoughts on the pit bull ban and the Michael Vick case.


Rachel Lillian Allon
Rachel Lillian Allon

Right now it's a human eat dog world in Denver.

�In the Dog House� by Jared Jacng Maher reviews the history and issues surrounding Denver�s breed ban. The article grazed the surface. As a legal, social, and economic issue it is substantially more complex. The bottom line is that the problem is less about canines and more about humans. Neglect and abuse of dogs will often lead to attacks. The owner should be culpable and criminally prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No matter what the breed. It is about behavior rather then lineage.

Denver Animal Control will not permit DNA evidence for a dog to be submitted. Scientific blood tests confirm the exact breed of any animal. When a dog is detained in Denver as a �pit bull� they are looking for �traits� or characteristics that determine whether an individual is considered likely to commit a particular type of crime. Does that sound familiar?? It�s called racial profiling.

Animal control officers are burdened with the task of determining what animal might fall into this mysterious realm of �pit bull.� They are also responsible for determining if a threat to society exists. Swimming pools and toys should also be considered.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states, �There were an estimated 220,500 toy-related injuries in 2006 to children under the age of 15.� Swimming pools were the cause of 3,582 deaths in America in 2005.

The Westward article says, �Firearms killed 30,000 people in the United States in 2006.� The Center for Disease Control is more specific about these deaths regarding accidents or violent crime (different numbers). Also, according to the CDC, �16 fatalities in 2005 were a result of injuries sustained in dog attacks.� 16 total deaths in the entire United States.


Dog 16 Swimming pool 3,582 Toys for Children 220,500

Swimming pools and toys are far more dangerous then dogs. Luckily, Denver has seized and euthanized approximately 3,497 dogs that might have been �pit bulls.� But they might not have been. They could have been your typical boxer mutt or lab mix labro-doodle.

Fear is powerful.

Another consideration is that Denver is a city with almost no off-leash parks. It�s a perfect storm. Captivity and restraint for a long duration leads to depression and dementia. The same is true for humans. Goldfish have less of a problem with this. Animals need exercise, but especially the ability to be un-tethered. Play and interaction is essential.

The County Court is overwhelmed with off-leash dog violations. Including vaccination/registration, breed ban, and reproduction sterilization tickets. The money generated in fines for these infractions, does not come close to what it costs taxpayers to keep County Courts tied up.

Are dogs really that important? $150M in the red for budget, huh.

Crime reduction in a city can be the result of any number of factors. Since, 1989 Denver has made positive steps to improve the city through community development and gentrification. It is unlikely there is a breed ban correlation.

It would be remiss to not also point out Denver breed ban, leash laws, and other related infractions are a socio-economic issue. The poor are not equal when it comes to ownership. Financial stability often provides a pet with obedience classes, backyards, and proper veterinary pet care. The amount of money a pet owner has is an undeniable factor. It�s a social class issue. People with cash can also fight the system.

There is no perfect solution. None. Here is an idea to start:

End the Denver dog breed ban.

Create more parks with dog specific areas. Fenced and unfenced, small sections of EVERY park in Denver should allow off leash. Not the entire park. Bikes, kids, and unrestrained dogs are a horrible combo. Provide sections within each park. People from all parts of the city need to access a park convenient to where they live.

Boulder, Colorado has created a system for monitoring dogs. Owners register dogs and they are tested for voice command and the ability to listen. It is also an opportunity for officials to observe the health and wellbeing of a pet. Jobs are created and revenue is generated for the city. At least might influence a small piece of that $150M. People can stop hiding in the parks or trying to out run officials to avoid tickets. Less �us� versus �them.� Compliance is rewarded. The dogcatcher job will be to ensure safety. Yes, safety.

Owners with animals that are involved in violent crimes should face extremely harsh consequences. Send them to Guantanamo. Fines and criminal prosecution on par with DUI, or in more dramatic criminal attacks charges of attempted manslaughter. Breed is arbitrary. Dangerous dog law for all breeds is the way to go, with harsher penalty for owners.

Please speak up and stand up. MANY THANKS to Westword.

Denver doesn�t have a dog problem. Denver has a human problem.


Jon Paul
Jon Paul

This is a very well written article. Maher has done his research and provided a thorough and unbiased report on this travesty of an issue.

Elizabeth O'Connell
Elizabeth O'Connell

I am Kevin O'Connell's mother. He and Dexter (his dog, which is NOT a pit bull) lived with me for about 2 yrs. I have a small Yorkie and a little Maltese. The three dogs were best friends. Dexter would lie down and the maltese would open his lips and clean his teeth. Strange thing to watch but, just to let the "powers that be" in Denver know he is one of the most gentle dogs any of them could ever come into contact with. He played with other dogs in the neighborhood and the children of all sizes. No one was ever afraid of him. The Denver "gestapo" needs to rethink what they are doing. They are acting like Hitler when he rounded up all the Jews and killed them.


Nate from Tamuning,You just showed your obvious lack of knowledge about dogs and your leanings.

"I think that on a private property it's okay to have your pit tied up with a chain,.."

It`s not ok to have any dog tied up with a chain guarding your property.Pit Bulls especially love people and need to be with people.They are family dogs not guard dogs.How would you like to be left outside with no coat,no love and chained all day?

Get a Security System or put the money that is being wasted on BSL to hire more Police Officers to deal with the problems in the neighborhood.

Resident dog vs Family doghttp://nationalcanineresearchc...


Pitbulls....people don't just like pitbulls as a pet, they like them because it protects their property from anything and everything, if a coconut fell off a tree, the pit would maul the nut as if it were a chihuahua. Yes, they are very good at guarding the property, I think that on a private property it's okay to have your pit tied up with a chain, but on a residential area, they should with out a doubt be caged up! They can still protect the property but without any one getting harmed! Private properties they can do whatever it is that they want to, some people trespass and what do they get for disobeying a posted sign, would be their own fault!


Thanks for writing a fair & unbiased article about a "hot button" dog. I am amazed by the comment attributed to Brown (?P14, bottom of column 1)"the word 'obedience' and pit bulls-to me there's a disconnect there. If I took my young dog to an obedience class and there was a pitbull there, I'd turn around and walk out" shows the level of prejudice that some people carry. To me, that equates to this: if there was a black person in the school I was taking my children to, I'd turn around and walk out.

Many pitbulls are extremely obedient and I believe that is a breed trait. I also believe many people have a problem when their little, untrained dog acts agressively towards a larger dog, and pack behavior takes place. I will acknowledge that my dog plays rough, and only some dogs like to play with her, but I trust her 100% around children.

Did you know that the original staffordshire terrier was known as "the nanny dog" because of their temperament with people? Check out "Bully, it's the pits" by Paul 107 for some good pictures and factoids about these misunderstood canines. Thanks again for the article. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you for the breed.

By the way I live in Hawaii where the pit bull is almost the unofficial state dog, if the yard census is anything to go by.

Erin  H.
Erin H.

I am thrilled to finally read an article that lists arguments from both sides and still comes to a logical conclusion: breed bans do not work. How arrogant are the city officials of Denver?!! They don't care that a multitude of people have fled the city and will not return. They care very little for many of the former citizens of Denver-those with paws and without. I used to love the city wholeheartedly as a child. When I adopted Arabella, however, my now 5 year old boxer/pit mix in 2004 I contemplated moving to Denver. Thank the lord I didn't Not even a full year later I would have been scrambling to get out of town to save the life of my beautiful baby girl. I don't have children, Bella is family to me. Taking her away would be like taking away my family. You are NOT protecting the citizens of Denver by banning a single breed. Mark my words: In 5 or 10 years another "dangerous breed" will be "terrorizing" the streets of Denver and no one will be safe because it is only the pit bulls we need to worry about right? Don't mind that salivating German Shepard or that Labrador who has bitten 6 people in the neighborhood...the streets are safe because we've killed thousands of little furry family members of former Denver residents..GET REAL!


HELLO ?? Dogs will kill cats - when did we become so ignorant of canine behavior that we think that this is a breed specific behavior?My uncle's Collie killed my cat - we NEVER even thought of killing his Collie for this - It's ugly, but it's nature.Cats kill mice - would any sane person think that this is a reason to kill a cat?Geez, to kill your dog because it killed your cats is a disgusting - if this happened - it is your fault for not understanding canine behavior and failing to keep your cats safe.


And Tony I should add that I think you made a huge mistake killing your dog for that behavior,it was your behavior that needed to be adjusted if you wanted to have both dog(s) and cats living together. If my dog was to kill a cat,I would be the one to blame,certainly not my dog and I wouldn`t kill my dog if my behavior led to it killing a cat.I don`t blame my cats or kill them for killing mice.

I hope you learn more about dog behavior before bringing ANY dog of ANY Breed into your house or you may come home to more dead cats in the future if you believe that it`s a Breed specific trait.Dogs are individuals and that`s the way you need to look at them.


Tony,I`m sorry about your cats butthat`s all Breed behavior,not Pit Bull Breed specific behavior.

Cat chasinghttp://www.diamondsintheruff.c...

I have a Lab that lives with 3 cats.She`s fine and enjoys their company while I`m present but there is no doubt in my mind thatshe would kill at least 2 of them if I was not present and she would kill any and all cats she encountered outside in a blinding flash.

She is separated from them when I`m away and smart cats should not jump into out backyard because there would be a cat "murder".

Once again the Media has you believing that this is Pit Bull specific because the Media reports cat killings ONLY when it`s a Pit Bull and they`ll actually call it a cat "murder'.Denver is notorious for reporting cat "murders" and there will be hundreds if not thousands of comments.It`s ridiculous to think that only Pit Bulls will kill cats.

Many dogs will give chase and many dogs will kill cats.

Tony Sullivan
Tony Sullivan

I just had to put my pitbull down. I've always been in favor for getting rid of the laws against the breed until last week. A week ago while I was at work my 6 year old dog killed my two cats. There was no reason for the action at all. Now I favor having the entire breed be destroyed.

Tommy Garrett
Tommy Garrett

Checked your site casa..the first five videos i tried to open were not there also not trying to say that they are all good im trying to say alot of bad people do bad things with them ,but if you get rid of all the pitbulls tomorrow dont you think those criminals are justgoing to go out and buy Rotties or Akitas and train or abuse them in the same fashion.Open your eyes it's people who are the problem not the dogs and most of the dogs people think are Pitbulls are not..


I do not respect this website. The first page, the opening page that anyone sees says "quadtriple." What is quadtriple? I know "quad" means four, and "tri" means three... Oh wait, did the author mean "quadruple?" If you're too dumb to use spell check, which is automatic in most programs, I refuse to repect your research.


@Theresa I too, am crying for Blondie and if she were raised right, this never would have happened ... how I wish people could be euthanized for the irresponsibility of their pets ... may Blondie know peace at Rainbow Bridge .. her owners know the worst karma I could ever imagine

Rebecca Furr
Rebecca Furr

What you numb skulls FAIL to take into account is that the CAT is someone's pet while the mouse that the cat kills is usually NOT someone's pet. You pit bull nuts complain about dog "racism" yet you are the biggest proponents of species prejudice I have ever seen. You act like it's no big deal when your vile pit bull kills someone's pet cat but I've got news for you.. some of us love our cats VERY much and will take whatever action is necessary to protect or avenge our cat's life up to and including lethal means! Thanks Denver and Aurora for being brave enough to ignore the loudmouth pit bull fans and for putting the public's safety ahead of the selfish pit bull fanatics. Keep up the good work!

Rebecca Furr
Rebecca Furr

And many cat owners will KILL a dog that is chasing their cat or any other cat.

Rebecca Furr
Rebecca Furr

I'm sorry for your loss :-( I feel the same way about my dogs, they are just mutts but when I take any dog in I make sure they don't try to chase my cats, not even in play. I have zero tolerance for it and they know it. If they step out of line, they go down the road. I have no use for pit bulls, they are ill bred, unpredictable and vicious. Almost every day there is another story of a pit bull attack. I wish they would be forced into extinction. I know this post is pretty old but I used to live in Denver and I just stumbled across this story and was reading the comments ;-)

Brandun Gaña
Brandun Gaña

or we could give a big dose of "Chata Phuck Up" to narrow minded people like you


And this author doesn't know left from right... interesting. "Watch Pit bull Attacks on Left." Ummmm... On the left is a list. All the way down. Sweetie, if he can't spell and he can't tell left from right, how in the world can anyone believe what he's blabbering about?


@Rebecca Furr You stumbled upon this story, huh, rebtris?