Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pit bull backers: Euthanize breed ban

Group rallies at state Capitol calling for end of breed-specific ban
Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

About 100 pit bull advocates yesterday stood in front of City Hall to bark their displeasure over the city’s ban on the breed.

The group calls a proposal by Councilwoman Carla Madison to establish a permitting process for some pit bulls a “compromise,” but added that it is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, the group — led by a California-based pit bull advocacy organization — is calling for a full repeal of the city’s 20-year-old ban.

“This is the hot spot, this is the most brutal breed ban that I’ve ever seen in any city,” said Paula Terifaj, leader of California-based pit bull advocacy group ROVERlution, while holding an empty dog leash to symbolize lost pit bulls. “The way they have enforced it, the way they’ve gone after dogs in back yards — they’ve gone into private residences and apprehended good citizens and taken away their dogs and killed them. That is egregious, it is wrong.”

More than 2,000 pit bulls have been killed by animal control since the ban was reinstated in 2005 following a court challenge of the ordinance. One of those dogs was Petey — just like the pit bull in the “Little Rascals.” He was owned by Aurora resident Rita Crockett. Petey was stolen out of an Aurora apartment and brought to Denver where he was picked up by animal control officers. Crockett found Petey through a microchip in the dog’s neck.

But when she approached animal control to take Petey home, she was told she needed to prove that the dog was not a pit bull. That was impossible and Petey was killed.

“It devastated me,” said Crockett. “They killed my dog and he’d never hurt anybody.”

Madison, however, believes she has an alternative. Rather than a sweeping ban, the councilwoman would like to permit pit bulls if owners take the dog through temperament testing, muzzle it, and pay special licensing and insurance fees, to name a few proposed restrictions.

But she has little support amongst her colleagues — in fact, Madison has almost no support from city officials.

Councilman Charlie Brown believes that unlike other dogs, when pit bulls attack they are lethal weapons, latching on and mauling their victims. He points to 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.

“I wish they would visit some of these victims lying in hospital beds trying to recover from pit bull attacks,” said Brown.

He also objects to the fact that the movement is being led by residents from outside the city.

“With all due respect, I don’t want people from California telling me how to run the City and County of Denver,” Brown added.

Madison identifies herself as a “dog lover” who has owned pleasant pit-bull mixes in the past. She says the burden of responsibility should be placed on the owners, not the dogs themselves.

“I love pit bulls, so I’ve been a sucker for this,” she said at the rally yesterday.

“I want the bar raised so that all dog owners have to be more responsible for their actions,” continued Madison.

Is Denver safer?

Animal control officials for the past four years have been unable to tell the Denver Daily News with any certainty whether a ban on pit bulls has made the city safer.

In a recent interview with the Denver Daily News, Meghan Hughes, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Health, said the success of the ban remains unclear.

“I don’t know that there’s one single answer to that,” she said recently. “I think it all depends on the way you look at it.”

Despite the ban, Denver still has a higher than normal rate of dog hospitalizations than any other area of Colorado, according to the National Canine Research Council.

Mayor John Hickenlooper offered only this statement yesterday, “Any move to change the law should be carefully considered and preserve our ability to maintain a safe and fair community.”

The Denver Daily asked the mayor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, to address why animal control officials can’t speak to any success of the ban. But the follow-up request for comment was not returned.

Three former Denver residents have filed a lawsuit to overturn the ban. The group hopes the city will look for a compromise as it is facing a $120 million budget shortfall and likely won’t want to spend money defending a costly lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Terifaj hopes that after four years of efforts she will one day be allowed to visit Denver with her pit-mix Brad Pit in-tow.

“Denver will always be remembered as a city cloaked in darkness — hiding under home-rule status to impose its own laws; its own sense of justice; its own punishment,” she wrote to her “comrades.” “(Today, as I leave Denver,) I solemnly wave goodbye to the Wild Wild West of Denver and its sketchy pursuit of justice.”