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Pit bull mix bites don't convince Larimer Humane Society to target breeds

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Denver's continuing pit bull ban remains a controversy lightning rod, with lovers of the breed putting blame for problems on owners even as critics see this type of dog as inherently dangerous. Now, two biting incidents involving pit-bull mixes in Larimer County (one dog is seen here) have revved up the debate again -- but despite the hubbub, the Larimer Humane Society remains against breed-specific bans.

As reported by 7News, Andrea Martin was gardening in her yard on June 1 when she was attacked by a pair of pit bull mixes owned by separate individuals but running loose together. She sustained a nasty series of wounds on one leg in the process.

This situation was even more frustrating for Martin after she learned that Phil Phelan, who also lives in her neighborhood, was bitten in the leg by what are suspected to be the same dog or dogs a few days earlier, on May 29. In an interview with 7News, he expressed his belief that the animals should have been dealt with earlier, implying that if local authorities had been quicker to respond, Martin might not have suffered her injury.

Stephanie Ashley, spokeswoman for the Larimer Humane Society, begs to differ with Phelan's characterization of her agency's efforts.

"Our animal protection and control responded immediately" to the Phelan bite, she says. "But they were unable to make contact with the owner. We can't just go into a home and take a dog, and the dog wasn't out or at large at any time we came by. And they went back every day and kept calling."

Officers had better luck after the Martin bite. "We were immediately able to identify and make contact with the owners and both dogs on June 1," she says, "and that's when the citations were issued for the owners."

As for how quickly officers acted in each case, Ashley says, "The call about the first bite came in at 7:15 p.m. on May 29, and we were on the scene by 7:49 p.m., and tried to make contact with the owners every day after that. And after receiving the second call at 2:40 p.m. on June 1, we were on the scene by 2:52 and made contact with each owner, and issued citations, at that time."

One of the dogs, whose owners lived on the street where the bites occurred and had a history of prior bites and escapes, was taken into custody on a ten-day bite quarantine. The second dog, whose record didn't match that of the other animal, was given a similar ten-day confinement mandate but was allowed to remain at the owner's home.

"In the second case, the victim [Martin] was unable to determine whether it was one of the dogs that bit her or both," Ashley points out. "So we're erring on the side of being as safe as possible, but assuming that the first dog" -- the one that also injured Phelan -- "bit in that case, too."

Have such incidents convinced Larimer Humane Society that pit bulls, or pit bull mixes, are so liable to harm others that they should be outlawed in the area? Nope. Ashley describes the organization's stance like so: "The Larimer Humane Society does not support legislation that's aimed at banning ownership of dogs based solely on their breed."

She adds that "as an organization, we understand that while most dogs don't bite, any dog may bite given any number of circumstances regardless of breed. So we support legislation that reflects that fact and really holds pet owners responsible for the actions of their pets."

For more information, Ashley recommends visiting LivingSafelyWithDogs.org.

Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

More from our News archive: "Leaked: photos of pit bulls killed due to Denver ban."

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