Gaston: ‘Bully breeds’ are the ones being bullied by Denver’s breed-specific legislation

Sam Gaston

The city of Fort Collins is very dog-friendly. Dogs are part of the community, no matter what shape, size or breed. Other cities in Colorado, such as Denver, have breed-specific legislation set in place to prevent “bully breeds” from living in the city at all. 

Many types of dogs fall under the bully breed category and are also impacted by breed-specific legislation. One that comes to mind for most is the pit bull. The stereotype of the pit bull is a vicious dog that will attack/bite anyone that comes within range. The big, block head and sharp teeth deter many potential adopters from this breed, causing thousands of pit bulls to be euthanized each year. 

Ad

To many dog owners, their dogs are considered family. Families are often influenced by each other and the attitudes around them — breed-specific legislation makes it seem as though the breeds are born vicious. However, training from the owner can be a major influence on the dog’s attitude. Lack of responsibility on the owner’s behalf can translate into the dog’s behavior. The nature versus nurture concept is applicable to these dogs and their owners. If being aggressive is a learned behavior, then it is the owner’s fault.  

The sad commercials of dogs locked in cages that have you diving for the remote to change the channel before you start crying often show breeds like pit bulls. A well-behaved pit bull, or any other banned breed, can, unfortunately, receive the same fate as other members of its breed that are not as mannerly. When they have the correct training and beneficial environment, any type of breed can flourish. Breed-specific legislation does not allow for individual evaluation of the dog. This is one of the legislation’s main weaknesses.

If the dog is not harmful to its community, can it justifiably be banned?

How effective is the legislation? Not very. According to the National Canine Research Council, several studies have concluded that cities that have enacted this legislation still suffer from a high rate of dog bites. On study states that “Denver, Colorado enacted a breed-specific ban in 1989. Citizens of Denver continue to suffer a higher rate of hospitalization from dog-bite-related injuries after the ban than the citizens of breed-neutral Colorado counties.”

The way pit bulls are portrayed in the media also does not help their case. Often, they are seen as the aggressive, snarling companion of a gang member and other roles associated with violence. Their role in the media causes the public to heighten their fear of the breed. The way they are portrayed is discriminatory and not reflective of every member of the breed.

The legislation can also be a bit confusing when it comes to vet care. In Denver, non-residents can bring their pit bull to the vet to be treated as long as they adhere to the leash law. However, if a resident of Denver illegally owns a pit bull and brings it in for treatment and animal control is made aware, the dog must be removed.

Enforcement of breed-specific legislation can also be costly. These costs include enforcement, kenneling, vet care, DNA testing, euthanizing and litigation costs. With all of the costs that arise to keep the ban afloat, it can be argued that it costs more than it’s worth. This money could be better allocated toward projects that would benefit the city as a whole.

Supporters of the breed-specific legislation provide the other side to the debate. In a post on DogsBite.org, it states that there were 34 deaths attributed to dog attacks. Pit bulls caused 28 of the 34 deaths. There have been reports of dogs under the breed ban posing a threat to other dogs and, in some cases, killing them. Brutal attack stories involving pit bulls and rottweilers influence ides about the breeds and contribute to why some feel that the breed ban is necessary.

The majority involved in the debate over the breed ban agree that it isn’t effective. It’s costly, discriminates against certain breeds and has not helped decrease the amount of dog attacks or bites since it has been enacted in various cities.

The best way to prevent these brutal attacks and irresponsible owners is through education and proper training. There are many rescue sites for pit bulls and other breeds under the ban that have programs to educate potential adopters about how to correctly train the dog they’re welcoming into their home. 

Ad

With more education provided to the public about these breeds, cities could see the change the dog-breed ban has not been able to provide. Discrimination against certain types of dogs increases the euthanasia rates nationally.

Responsible dog owners and well-behaved dogs can also be punished for something they have not done. The breed ban causes more issues than it solves when looking at the effects of the legislation. Through education and better care of the dogs that fall under the ban, these problems could be eradicated and more adoptions could take place.

Collegian Columnist Sammy Gaston can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @SammyGaston.