Wednesday, December 24, 2008
MILITARY TO THE RESCUE — Army Staff Sgt. Heidi J. Tufto had to have her pit bull, Lumpy, left, flown by military helicopter to Oregon after Lumpy was seized in Denver. Tufto’s other dog, Nigel, is to the right. Nigel is not a pit bull.
Denver kills dogs.
That’s the message being spread by ROVERlution, a California-based group working to overturn breed-specific legislation in cities like Denver. The Mile High City in May 2005 placed a ban on pit bulls, which has resulted in a backlash from dog lovers across the globe and hundreds of dead dogs.
A new Web site, DenverKillsDogs.com, and companion billboards across the city aim at informing the public that Denver is currently killing family dogs, according to backers of the campaign. The Web site features an image of a fireplace with photos of pit bulls and their families plastered across the mantel.
“Denver wants family dogs executed or exiled,” states the Web site.
The billboards ask, “Which dog will Denver kill next?” and feature a baby rolling on the floor with an adorable looking pit bull. The idea is to motivate people to continue hammering city officials to repeal the breed ban. The posters can be found at the Pepsi Center, the Convention Center and at Coors Field.
In fact, Denver had killed 1,918 pit bulls as of October since the breed ban was reenacted. David Edelstein, founder of ROVERlution, said as many as 3,100 pit bulls may have been killed when taking into account private shelters that are contracted by the city when city shelters are full.
Animal Control Director Doug Kelley could not say yesterday with any certainty that the ban on pit bulls has made Denver a safer city.
“It’s a hard question to answer,” Kelley told the Denver Daily News. “We have not had a severe mauling or fatality involving a pit bull since its gone into effect. But then again, we continue to get more pit bulls every year … it depends on how you define success.”
There has actually not been a serious pit bull attack in Denver since the 1989 mauling of Rev. Wilbur Billingsley, who was left with more than 70 bites and two broken legs. The incident resulted in the City Council banning pit bulls from the city. In 2004, Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill prohibiting local municipalities from enacting breed-specific legislation. Denver challenged the statute and enforcement resumed in May 2005.
That year, the city impounded 1,011 pit bulls; in 2006, 952; 2007, 459; 2008, 315. Kelley added, however, that there’s likely hundreds of others throughout the city. Animal Control usually does not know about a pit bull in the city until a neighbor complains.
Hoping to change the world
ROVERlution is hoping to convince the public that pit bulls have gotten a bad name because of negative media coverage and misinformation.
“We’re not trying to burn anyone at the stake,” said Edelstein. “What we’re trying to do is bring about positive change.”
Edelstein rescued Forrest the dog back in August after the pit bull was picked up twice and subsequently condemned to death. The story made national headlines because Forrest did not actually live in Denver, but instead wandered away from his Adams County yard and across city lines into Denver. Since the Forrest incident, Animal Control has changed its policy to work with rescue groups to find a safe home for pit bulls picked up twice. The dogs must leave the state to be trusted with a new owner.
The tidal wave of pit bull negativity, however, could be turning on the national level. Take “Sports Illustrated,” for example. In 1987 the magazine ran a cover photo of a vicious pit bull with the headline, “Beware of this dog.” But the magazine’s Christmas Eve issue features a cute photo of Sweet Jasmine, one of the pit bulls rescued from former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation.
Meanwhile, Army Staff Sgt. Heidi J. Tufto is focusing solely at the local level. She was left with a bad taste in her mouth about Denver politics when in 2001, just days after moving to Denver, a white van rolled up on her while she was walking her pit bull, Lumpy, and two other dogs in Riverfront Park.
As animal control officers grabbed Lumpy’s leash, allowing Tufto’s other two dogs to run loose into traffic around the park, Denver police officers rushed to the scene to assist. With guns drawn, Tufto was ordered to the ground. Lumpy was thrown in the van and driven away.
Tufto is used to guns and violence — she dealt with it all the time serving America in Iraq — but she couldn’t handle watching her beloved Lumpy taken from her grasp. Lumpy happens to be a certified therapy dog and an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen.
An elderly immigrant from Germany who witnessed the incident equated it to the “gestapo,” said Tufto.
Lumpy was saved — flown to Oregon on a CH-47 Chinook military helicopter.
But Tufto remains bitter, wanting desperately to change the minds of city officials.
“What citizens want is an effective piece of legislation to protect everyone and that’s proven to work,” she said, pointing to cities that have beefed-up their dangerous dog ordinances to hold dog owners both criminally and civilly liable.
Kelley himself agreed that on a personal level he would like to see more stringent dangerous dog ordinances. He said before overturning the ban, city officials would first need to look at that aspect of its code.
Sonya Dias, lead proponent in Denver for overturning the ban, said she has been fighting for three and a half years to have officials hold owners responsible over their dogs. While she has found herself pinned up against several walls during the fight — including a complicated lawsuit to overturn the ordinance — she promises to never stop fighting.
In fact, Dias is in the process of launching a new campaign that will reward towns and cities like Lakewood and Englewood for choosing not to impose breed-specific legislation. The campaign will bring veterinarians into the municipalities to spay and neuter pit bulls that have graciously been allowed to live and breathe.
“For some reason, I just keep going and don’t stop, I don’t know why,” she said. “I may change my direction, but I won’t stop.”