Denver Voters Give Dog Lovers a Win

When voters went to the polls this November, dog lovers in Denver overwhelmingly passed  Ballot Measure 2J which overturns key parts of the more than  30-year ban in the city on Pit Bulls.

The fight against Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) in Denver is long and complicated. This past February, the Denver City Council voted 7 to 4 to repeal the ban with a probation style ordinance that will restrict but allow Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes to live in the city. However, the Mayor of Denver vetoed the ordinance saying the dogs still posed a risk to residents. After the Mayor’s veto, the legislation was put before voters and this November the ballot measure to overturn the BSL passed with a vote of 64.5 percent.

On the surface, this is a tremendous victory for dogs and dog lovers in Denver, but the passage of the ballot measure is complicated.

Related:  6 Ways You Can Fight Breed-Specific Legislation in Your Community 

Although the ballot measure passed, it is not completely legal for Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs to live in Denver. According to Stacey Coleman, Executive Director of Animal Farm Foundation, which provides legal support and advocacy to fight for the rights of dogs and dog guardians being targeted by these discriminatory laws, the new regulations allow guardians to apply for “provisional permits” to own a Pit Bull within the city. Essentially even after the ballot measure certain Pit Bulls and mixes who appear to resemble  Pit Bulls are still being unfairly targeted based on how they look. Requirements include that the dog must be microchipped and kept in compliance with requirements put in place by Denver Animal Protection, which Coleman explains includes an annual fee the amount of which has yet to be determined. The city will keep records about each dog and has reserved the right to inspect the home and dog at any time. No other dogs in the city of Denver are subjected to these restrictions.

Pit Bulls are often the targets of Breed-Specific Legislation.

Pit Bulls are often the targets of Breed-Specific Legislation. Photography by Colten Tognazzini.

What is Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)? 

BSL are laws or regulations put in place that ban or limit the ownership of certain dogs within a location. Though most people think of Pit Bull type dogs when they hear breed bans, many breeds of dogs and mixed breeds are impacted. In various areas breeds that have been banned or restricted include Chows, German Shepherd Dogs, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Akitas and often large breeds of dogs.

BSL is ineffective

BSL is widely recognized to be an ineffective way to protect communities and has been discredited by veterinary experts.

“Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite. Dogs from small breeds also bite and are capable of causing severe injury. There are several reasons why it is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds,” explains the American Veterinary Association in its opposition to Breed-Specific Legislation.

There is no scientific data to back the idea that a dog is dangerous or a risk to the community simply because of the breed. In addition, research has shown that visual identification of mixed breeds is often inaccurate, which poses additional challenges of dogs being targeted based on looks.

“Behavior isn’t nature or nurture, it is an ever-changing non-static combination of both,” notes Stacey, who encourages municipalities that are concerned about community safety around risks of dog bites to adopt policies that are breed-neutral. These breed-neutral policies look at dogs and their guardians based on incidents that happen on a case-by-case basis instead of punishing innocent dogs of a specific breed.

BSL is unjust

One of the biggest challenges of BSL is the way unfair and unjust laws are applied in communities across the United States. “We’re at a very sensitive time where we are starting to understand how oppressive laws have been misapplied and inconsistently applied and depending on the person who is responsible for applying them,” notes Coleman.

Specifically, Stacey explains “breed-specific legislation is steeped in racism and classism and it is enforced more often with lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color” regardless of how well-loved and cared for dogs are. Although BSL claims to make communities safer it doesn’t actually or prevent dog bites, but it does place unnecessary hardship and stress on families trying to keep their dogs from being able to get homes.

Where is BSL? 

Unfortunately, Denver isn’t the only city in the United States that has active Breed-Specific Legislation or anti-breed ordinances. There are currently more than 700 areas across the United States that legally allow for the discrimination of certain breeds or mixed breeds.

“We found one town that has BSL but they didn’t even know it was on the books in some areas. In many places, it wasn’t being enforced” Staceyn said. In some areas BSL  takes the form of a requirement to obtain special permits for certain breeds of dogs, in other cases, it’s an outright ban on dogs living in the area where dogs can be seized and permanently removed from their families. Animal Farm Foundation maintains an interactive map of municipalities across the country that have BSL in place which can be accessed here.

Featured Photo: Nevena1987/Getty Images

Read Next: Ending Breed Discrimination

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