Pit bull battle: Team Pit-A-Full creates an international petition in support of the breed

They don't make Air Bud movies about pit bulls. There are no commercials in which a pit bull licks ice cream from a gleeful toddler's cone of Rocky Road, and only Weimeraners seem to drive cars. In Denver, the pit bull breed is illegal, and it has been for decades. David Edelstein can't change the last part yet, but he's working -- slowly -- on the first two.

The city's history with the breed-specific legislation spans 22 years; it stemmed from a May 1989 incident that provided the impetus for banning the dogs. Edelstein's time with the issue has spanned five, starting when he became the caretaker of his first pit bull, Little Daze, a gentle brown giant later followed by two adopted siblings. All three became the motivation for his nonprofit effort to break down public stigma against the breed: Team Pit-A-Full.

If the name is sad, it's a reflection of Edelstein's feelings about the ban.

David Edelstein's pit bull companions (Forrest, Little Daze and Mr. Kane) round out Team Pit-A-Full.
David Edelstein's pit bull companions (Forrest, Little Daze and Mr. Kane) round out Team Pit-A-Full.
Courtesy of Rick Watson

In the coming months, the group plans to bark up a different tree than the typical route of city council through an international petition devoted to reexamining the breed's role in Denver. Appropriately named OccuPIT Denver, the petition takes its title from another local movement also led by a dog.

As he shares the group's origins, Edelstein's conversation is punctuated by an occasional bark in the background.

Team-Pit-A-Full's platform against breed-specific legislation in the Denver area focuses in large part on the idea that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. Violence on the part of a pit bull can be tracked directly back to its owner and living situation, Edelstein says, and though the concept can be tough to translate to non-dog people, it has to be done. In order to approach any remotely successful change in public perception, Edelstein and his fellow pit bull supporters must make the issue matter with people for whom the dogs don't.

"I try to use comparison and contrast: Imagine you're a homeowner and you have a neighbor who has an oak tree he doesn't trim," says Edelstein, a chef who lives with his dogs in Arvada. "In a windstorm, a branch falls off and hits your house, causes damage and maybe even falls through the house and kills your child. Would you want to see all oak trees cut down in the world, or would you want the owner of that particular oak tree to be punished for negligence?"

More about Team Pit-A-Full below.   The idea is nothing new, nor are his efforts: Team Pit-A-Full's attempts to defend the breed against stereotypes recently included a 100-mile walk to benefit the dogs in July ("a big failure," Edelstein says) and a pit bull flash mob on the 16th Street Mall in August. For the latter, 150 people RSVP'd but only 27 showed. Here's a video from that event.

Given these experiences, Edestein remains acutely aware that any immediate efforts are unikely to change the law in the near future.

But they could change minds, he says. "I would like to focus on the advocacy of the breed, not the legality at this point," Edeslstein says. "This is all part of responsible ownership: You don't take your dog somewhere it's not welcome. They can argue that it shouldn't be that way, and it shouldn't, but that's how it is and you have to protect your pets."

This is where the petition comes in. No matter how many signatures it gets (Edelstein hopes for 50,000), the effort is not going to change the law right away, he says. That's not even its goal. Instead, Edelstein and its supporters hope to make a public statement against the ban that will discourage the popularity of Denver in the same way the city has discouraged the breed.

"I would like to see tourism dropping, small businesses moving out of Denver, homebuyers looking elsewhere, travel through DIA going down," he says. "What we're trying to do is bring a lot of attention to the issue. It's a little far-fetched, and we're not going to get there, but we want to make this a topic of conversation everywhere we can."

So far, the petition includes signatures from Europe, South America, Central America and Australia. In the meantime, Edestein is adapting his tactics through creative measures, including potential onscreen time for Kane, a split-masked pit bull who was pulled out of a South Denver home at gunpoint before Edelstein adopted him.

"A cow is an animal," Edelstein says. "A chicken is an animal. A dog is something else. It's so hard to see something like this law exist when the opposite is true of, but 'Pit bull sleeps on couch' is not headline material."

Read more about OccuPITDenver on its website.

More from our News archives: "3,497 dead dogs and other numbers from Denver's pit bull ban."

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