An open letter to Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock:

by Sophia Sanchez on February 16, 2020

An open letter to Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock:

On February 10th, 2020… Denver City Council - in a 7 to 4 vote - moved to overturn a 30-year, breed specific ban, that precisely targets pit bull-type dogs.  If passed, the new legislation would require pit bull owners to obtain a “breed-restricted license,” among a few other stipulations.

On February 14th, you vetoed the bill under the guise of “deep reflection and consideration.”

The proposed bill will head back to the city council this week, which now requires a total of 9 votes to override your veto.  A vote that likely sits at a count of 8, since councilwoman, Stacie Gilmore, has already publicly stated that she opposes the ordinance.

At the time of the initial vote, the city council chambers erupted in audible praise and applause from your constituents over the clear support of councilman, Chris Herndon’s, proposal.  Yet despite the clear support, you have chosen to ignore all scientific evidence and statistical data not only on a national level, but that of your own city that completely disproves the legitimacy of BSL; over claim that “irresponsible pet owners continue to be the problem, and it is the irresponsible dog owners and their dogs I must consider in evaluating the overall impact of this ordinance.”

 Your response begs the question: 

Have you actually considered all sides to this issue or is your decision based on a personal bias?

To give you the benefit of the doubt the assumption is that you are simply uneducated on the subject.  Breed specific legislation (BSL) is a blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain breeds entirely, in hopes of reducing dog attacks.  The general concept underpinning BSL is that the most effective way to determine whether or not a certain dog could potentially pose a threat is by classifying and generalizing entire breeds of dogs as “dangerous” regardless of the individual dog’s temperament, behavioral history or owner’s actions.  The issue however is that dangerous dogs are not breed specific.  Dangerous dogs are not remedied by the “quick fix” of BSL, which is nothing more than a softening of what it actually is:  breed discriminatory legislation.

Breed specific legislation most often targets “pit bulls.”  Quotations are utilized here because in reference to BSL, the term pit bull is most typically a generalization used to cover a range of physical characteristics rather than an actual breed - broad shoulders, short, stocky, muscular bodies, square heads, etc.  BSL targets dogs that have a specific appearance rather than what the name itself suggests - it is supposed to be breed specific.  It is not effective legislation; especially when so many “pit bulls” are actually a mix of breeds and it is nearly impossible - even for experts - to determine a dog’s breed by appearance alone.  It simply does not work. 

There is absolutely no statistical evidence or data to support that BSL makes communities safer.  It is not only difficult to enforce, but incredibly costly as well. Prince George County in Maryland for example, has had a pit bull ban in effect since 1997.  They spend more than $250,000 annually trying to enforce the ban. And in a study conducted in 2003 by the county themselves, they found the ban was ineffective.  It was noted that “public safety is not improved as a result of the ban,” and “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).”   It is mind boggling that counties and cities all over the country [and even the world] have overwhelming evidence that breed specific bans do not work, and yet legislators like yourself continue to ignore the actual damage they do; the millions of innocent lives it actually affects.

With the proposed bill pit bull owners within Denver city limits would be required to obtain a “breed-restricted license” where applicants would have to pay an annual fee, provide proof of microchipping and have current vaccination records.  They would be limited to two pit bulls per household and every dog would require spay/neutering, among a handful of other conditions. Innocent dogs would basically be on probation, having to prove themselves despite most likely never having had a dangerous encounter.  And yet your reasoning for vetoing the bill was because you could not in good conscience ignore the staggering number of “irresponsible dog owners” who would likely fail to comply with these new measures.  Because as you stated yourself… “unfortunately, less than 20% of all pets in Denver are currently licensed, which raises significant questions about the effectiveness of the proposed new system.”   If you read between your own lines then you would clearly see that the issue here is not breed specific at all, rather a Denver-resident issue.

If you would take a moment to look at your own city’s statistical data you would see that you are audaciously targeting innocent animals.  The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment has reported a total of 253 pit bull bites since 2010. The total number of reported dog bites during that time was a weighted 5, 721; pit bull bites making up just 4% of that figure.  The City & County Animal Protection Department reported just one fatality from a dog in that same timeframe. It was a German Shepherd.

It is estimated that there are over 3.5 million pit bull-type dogs living in the United States at this very moment; the majority of whom will never have a dangerous encounter in their lives.  This ban and similar bans all across the country not only target these innocent creatures, but it is also completely discriminatory against the responsible owners that exist right alongside them.  By generalizing the behaviors of dogs that look a certain way, innocent dogs and their owners suffer. Families are forced to move or worse, torn apart, being forced to give up their dogs who have never bitten or threatened to bite; many of whom end up being euthanized - which becomes a taxpayer expense.  Furthermore, dogs that are considered to be of a “dangerous breed” may already be serving the community in positions such as police work, military operations, search and rescue, and service animals. Contrary to being a liability, these animals are assets to society. 

Dogs are more likely to become aggressive when they are unsupervised, unneutered, and under-socialized.  BSL forces dogs to go into hiding. Because rather than give up their beloved pets, owners of highly regulated or banned breeds often attempt to avoid detection of their dogs by restricting outdoor exercise, providing proper socialization and proper veterinary care, etc.; the very actions that can have serious implications on the health and temperament of dogs, and that of public safety.  Not to mention that BSL may actually encourage ownership by irresponsible people. If you outlaw a breed, then outlaws become attracted to that breed. The rise of pit bull ownership among gang members in the late 1980’s coincided with the first round of breed specific legislation; likely not a coincidence.  

Your biggest issue is not being able to look past the presumed irresponsibility of your pit bull-owning constituents.  Except breed bans DO NOT address the social issue of irresponsible pet ownership.  You said it yourself, less than 20% of dog-owning, Denver residents currently have their required licensing.  Irresponsibility exists whether the dog is a pit bull, a chihuahua, a golden doodle, a shitzu, a german shepherd, a bulldog…..  Your efforts are grossly misplaced and what you should be focusing on are the people who possess dogs within your city, rather than the dogs themselves.  Banning a specific breed can give a community a false sense of security and deemphasize to owners of other breeds the importance of appropriate socialization and training, which is a critical part of responsible pet ownership no matter what kind of dog you have.  In enacting breed-specific legislation, cities and states will spend money trying to enforce ineffective bans and restrictions rather than implementing proven solutions, such as licensing and leash laws, and responding proactively to owners of any dog that poses a risk to the community.

There is no doubt that you have made a decision based on what you believe to be the best choice for the community and the people you serve.  But you are not a dog-behavioral expert. The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, the CDC, the American Kennel Club, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Animal Control Association, the National Canine Research Council….  All of these nationally accredited organizations publicly denounce the effectiveness of breed specific legislation. And with no disrespect to you Mayor, you do not know better than these organizations.

In closing, these four faces below represent the millions of dogs all across the nation just like them who have faced discriminatory laws, have looked euthanasia in the face and who have been wrongfully mislabeled every day of their lives.  They have seen the very worst humanity has to offer and today are thriving despite being failed time and time again.  This ban only further perpetuates the myth that they are dangerous.  Any dog can bite, regardless of the breed.  Do the right thing for the people AND DOGS that you serve.

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Cielo survived a backyard breeding situation where she was overbred, having litter after litter with no recovery time in between.  She was tortured by her “humans” often being burnt with cigarettes; likely for fun. Despite her past, she is a loving and loyal member of her family and upstanding citizen in her community.

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Lily was abandoned and left tied to a tree without food or water.  Once rescued she faced death row in the shelter system before being pulled by a rescue and finding her forever home.  She spent so much of her life without a real home, much to the surprise of her family because Lily is the most perfect girl, with nothing but love to give.

 

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Wyatt is a 100 pound, 6 year old, Staffordshire Terrier mix.  He is a survivor of very cruel animal abuse and has never once shown an ounce of aggression or reactivity.  He is an upstanding member of his community who works to educate everyone around him about the true nature of pit bull-type dogs and he lives up to his name of Gentle Giant every single day.

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Jimbo is a three year old pup who was mislabeled as a "pit-mix" and was put on death row through Prince George County in Maryland.  He is a prime example of why breed specific legislation does not work.  It wrongfully targets dogs that may look like pit bulls, when in fact they are not.  Thankfully, this error was corrected before Jimbo was wrongfully euthanized and now he is currently in a loving foster home awaiting his forever home.  


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