Gryffie (right): Banned in Denver

No one doubts that language counts. We’ve been having a thoughtful conversation here and at This One Wild Life about the terms that should be used to discuss killing dogs at shelters, terms that would allow for sensitivity to shelter workers tasked with performing the killing but not minimize the impact of what happens. I’m still not sure how I feel about that issue.

But I have no question about how to describe seizing healthy, happy dogs from good, loving homes and killing them:  murder. And they’re getting away with it in so-called enlightened cities like Denver, Colorado.

In the course of researching breed specific legislation (BSL) for a story, I’ve learned that BSL is a blanket term for a hodgepodge of laws that impose a variety of restrictions on ostensibly dangerous breeds, with the goal of preventing serious dog bites.

Some laws that fall under the aegis of BSL mandate special insurance for owners of these breeds. Others require muzzling the dogs in public.

Some — such as those in Denver — impose bans.

Ban is an extremely bland word.

When Boston banned books it was rather quaint. The city just seemed prissy for doing it and the books, available elsewhere, just seemed more desirable.

Dog bans don’t work that way.

When dogs are banned, it usually means that they must be removed from the jurisdiction that is imposing the ban within a specified, sometimes very short, period of time or be killed. Owners might have a week –if they’re lucky, a month — to find a new home for the dog. Sometimes, because of bureaucratic snafus, they are not given the chance to get the pet out of the hands of animal control at all. In brief: Beloved, well-behaved animals, valued members of families, are seized from distraught, caring owners and put to death.

I didn’t grasp all that from hearing the term “BSL” or “ban” and neither do most people.

Here’s how I know. I put out a call on Facebook and Twitter to talk to people affected by BSL for my article. I got a few responses from people with pit bulls whose insurance rates were raised, and from some whose dogs were given a wide berth or got dirty looks on the street. Inconvenient and sad, yes. Dire, no.  I finally got a referral from the National Canine Research Council — an excellent resource for information on BSL and data on dog bites, the numbers and extent of which have been vastly exaggerated — to Sonya Dias.

Boy, were my eyes opened.  Until she sold her beautiful 1,700-square-foot loft with mountain views in downtown Denver and moved to a small, boxy apartment outside of city limits, Sonya lived in fear that her sweet rescued pit bull, Gryffindor, was going to be taken away and killed. For nearly a year, she walked him at 4:30 in the morning so he wouldn’t be spotted — to cite just one detail of many about the way she was forced to live because of Denver’s anti-pit bull laws. Sonya can rattle off horror stories about people she knows who weren’t able to save their pets. And she has pictures of the results which I will not show.

This was in 2005, when Denver’s breed ban was reinstated after being put on hold for a year. Sonya still hasn’t gotten over the experience of having had to look over her shoulder and worry about Gryffie all the time. And she’s very angry about “these stupid laws.”

As we all should be. According to an article in Denver Westword News, at least 3,497 pitbulls have been killed since the city instituted its  ban in 1989. The article also says, “Denver’s ban remains the toughest in the nation, and the city also has a reputation as the country’s toughest enforcer.”

With so many dogs killed because they can’t find homes, it seems inconceivable that a city is willfully destroying family pets.

I’m not going to discuss why, according to all respected animal welfare experts and organizations, breed bans are unscientific and ineffective. There are many good resources, including the ab0ve-mentioned National Canine Research Council, for that. Nor am I going to talk about how pit bulls are no different than other dogs. I’ve touched on that in two posts, Debunking Pit Bull Myths and No, Pit Bulls Aren’t Perfect.

This post is about language.

We need to stop using the phrase breed specific legislation — or, worse, its meaningless abbreviation — to refer to the singling out, banning and killing of certain dogs. It’s vague and boring: put the word “legislation” in any phrase and most people’s eyes glaze over, and “specific” isn’t exactly a crowd rouser either.   Moreover, the usage is inaccurate. Some laws that fall under the aegis of BSL are far more benign than others. We shouldn’t lump them all together.

What words should we use? Deadly breed bans? Canine murder mandates? Dog death panels? I’m not sure, but we can do better than BSL.

I regret that I went to a pet blogger’s conference in Denver. I’m sorry it was held there. Now that I know exactly what goes on, I’m not going to spend another cent visiting any city that has a breed ban until it’s entirely* abolished. And, whenever possible, I’m going to tell everyone who will listen why I’m boycotting those places.

Silence = death.

*I don’t care that pitbull service dogs are now allowed in Denver on a case-by-case basis. That’s not close to good enough.

38 thoughts on “Let’s call breed bans what they are: Death sentences”

  1. This has become an issue with dog shows as well. Our Samoyed National Specialty is to be held in Utah this October in a county adjacent to one which has implemented Animal Rights legislation. Many of the people planning to attend the show will be making a point of not spending a single dime in the AR county. This will continue to be something kennel clubs will keep an eye on, and it WILL result in losses for areas who pass these laws.

    As far as I am concerned, EVERY bit of legislation should be fought down as hard as the next. Fact is, if they’re not coming for you now, they will next time around. There is no such thing as benign when we’re talking about this stuff. Take a second to read even the most “harmless” sounding stuff and you will see that in attempt to “stop puppy mills” or “make our streets safer” or “reduce the number of homeless dogs” we’re essentially making it illegal for good responsible owners to own dogs at all.

    1. I didn’t realize that it’s become a widespread issue through the dog world — I’m not as much part of the activist community as I’d thought! — and I’m glad. You’re right of course. It’s a slippery slope. Any kind of laws that discriminate against a breed should be struck.

      We do need to stop puppy mills. And there’s nothing wrong with dangerous dog laws that hold irresponsible owners responsible. How these are worded to save dogs’ lives and to allow responsible people to own dogs is important.

  2. Yes. Denver is a special case of purposeful ignorance of the facts, and they like to send the lawyer who devised this creepy circumvention of the minimum expectations we have of democratic freedom to other cities to help them pull off that same tyranny.

    For 20 years Denver citizens have failed to rise up and rid themselves of these tin-pot dictators. I don’t know what that says about the people of Denver. I don’t have enough data. I will say if they are allowing themselves to be ruled by fear or are simply sheep who go along with this insanity, they need to rid themselves of such loathsome traits, and get busy protecting their rights or they won’t have them for long – inmates running the asylum and all.

    I’ve written on this topic, and it made me ill reading the reports of police state tactics, knocking on doors to check your dogs, ripping them from your arms to kill them if the looked like “pit types” with no reason, no due process, in a State that bans this filthy miscarriage of justice. (I guess I’m telling you how I *really* feel!)

    I saw the pictures – all you had to do was mention them and I could see them again in bright detail in my mind. I’m glad you did not show them. People can find them if they want to.

    Bad Rap refers to a generally accepted shelter computation, although the citation is not known, that 1 in 600 pit bulls gets adopted from a shelter. Guess what happens to the rest. Policies held by some ACCs are “do not adopt pit bulls” are an automatic death sentence. Media hype has made them the most undesirable dog in the country to try to keep as a your own. Urban shelters report a big increase in the pit bull type dog being turned in.

    I was astonished at the choice of *that* city for BlogPaws, asking pet lovers’ to lavish money in a place with such a heinous law, thereby supporting it. I don’t think that’s okay, I don’t think it should be minimized or glossed over, and Boulder would have made a much better choice at that time. I don’t know who did that or why and don’t know if it was ever explained. But I would hope they would never make that mistake again. We need to reward pet-friendly cities.

    Well, my bp must be waay up, and so early in the day! But I thank you for bringing this topic up again with a strong voice. It’s been too long and I think you’re absolutely right – BSL just doesn’t cut it.

    1. Mary, thanks for your strong words. I feel like an idiot for being so clueless about this issue. But that’s what reading and learning is about. And I guess it’s good that people are continually rediscovering the issue — though terrible that it’s been going on for so long.

      Please do send links to your posts on this topic.

      I believe there was some rumblings about the choice of Denver. Maggie Marton had postcards at the conference to send to the mayor to stop the ban. But our being there and spending money in the city said the opposite.

      It wasn’t until the NFL boycotted Arizona and refused to hold SuperBowl there that the state finally celebrated MLK day as a holiday.

      We’ve got to talk with our wallets.

        1. Thank you very much, Mary. Trust you to have not one, but a minimum of four posts on any animal welfare topic! It’s high time that I interview you for this blog. Yeah, I know, we’ve been talking about that forever… but I’m saying it in public so it’ll be another accountability moment!

          But what’s ALDF?

          1. Oh, sorry it took me so long to get back to this post! ALDF is the Animal Legal Defense Fund. They are a .org, have been around for decades, founded by lawyers working on anti-cruelty cases. They were involved in writing the ordinance for the West Hollywood ban on pet shops, and were the lawyers behind creating the animal abuser registry so people would know when a convicted abuser moved into the neighborhood. Check their history on BSL and the links to other resources- you probably have them all already, but it’s a really good site to use as a reference.

  3. Edie and Mary also, thank you for bring this topic up, I also had no clue regarding Denver and the BSL legislation.

    Back in the 50s it was the Doberman Pinscher that had the same rap as Pitts do now days. It’s NOT the Breed of dog that creates the problem, it’s the people who raise, handle and train the breed who cause the problem. One name comes to mind, Michael Vick who entered into a plea-bargain on lesser charges and is now worshiped by the money/sports people. In my book he’s a creep, no mater what the news media tries to make him out to be.

    In all the years of being around dogs, the worst bite I recieved was from a Cocker Spaniel, so should all Cockers be Killed, or was it that I didn’t read the dog when he told me “I’m going to bite if you keep doing what you’re doing.”

    When I was at the local shelter where I volunteer last Friday, They had a 6 months old mix breed puppy being held in quarantine for biting, imagine that a untrained 6 months old puppy biting, does it now become a law Mutts should be killed.

    It’s not the animals that are the problem, it is the us not so human humans who are the problem. Before humans animals got along just fine.

  4. As I understand it, the new guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act will take effect in March and specifically state that service dogs cannot be discriminated against on the basis of breed.

    That means that Denver won’t have the right to go “case by case” basis in determining whether PB’s are allowed in stores. The city will be breaking federal law if it continues its policy.

    If legislators can ban (kill) any breed, they can ban every breed.

    1. I’m afraid that’s not accurate: Sonya wrote me via email: The city council is not going to allow pit bull service dogs, no matter what it said on the news. It is not a case by case basis and the city does not care about getting in compliance with the ADA. It’s just awful here.

  5. Denver is notorious for Canine Murder Mandates. I too was taken aback by BlogPaws holding its conference there. And, like you I attended without raising a fuss. I was wrong.

    Boulder is only only 30 miles away from Denver, but it feels like light years. Not because of the Dog Death Panels, but because it’s just too damn much trouble to drive to Denver. So, thankfully, we don’t spend money there.

    I have no idea how to explain the seeming silence among Denver citizens about the death sentence under which beloved pet Pit Bulls live. But, I do worry that the malignancy might metastasize to Boulder. Boulder is a whacky town. It’s true Boulder has it’s share of dog lovers and dogs (about 1 in 3 households have at least one dog), but it also is well-populated with with loud, politically well-connected people who see dogs, all dogs, as vermin.

    In a quick cruise around the net I found a gazillion breeds that are banned from apartment buildings at the whim, apparently, of the apartment owner, regardless of how well-socialized and well-behaved the particular dog is. Rotties, German Shepherds, Dobies, Chows, Akitas, Malamutes, Dalmatians, Boxers, Huskies, even Poodles…..the list goes on. Of course, these dogs don’t face Death Panels, but their people face eviction….or surrendering a member of the family as the price for being able to stay in their home. That is just wrong.

    I agree with you. Language is important and BSL is just another euphemism for murdering perfectly good dogs. I ache deeply for the people who suffer the agonizing loss of beloved family members. My heart goes out to them.

    1. You know, not being able to rent an apartment IS a big deal, now that I think of it. So is being evicted. And so is paying more insurance. It’s wrong to minimize any aspect of these awful laws. Breed Discriminatory Laws is a better term than BSL and it’s a fairly common phrase. At the least, I think I’ll start using that term.

  6. Thank you, Edie, for bringing attention to the fact that Denver does indeed round up good, well-cared for, well-trained beloved family dogs and KILLS THEM as part of the breed ban.

    It is interesting, at least to me, to see city council debating one aspect of the ban–pit bull service dogs. If you want to see it, here’s a link to a video of Denver’s city council. The video will load on the upper right hand side, then start around the 13-minute mark. You will be amazed at what they say regarding dogs and service animals and the ADA. It’s eye-opening!

  7. Excellent post, Edie. The postcard campaign came out of my shock that BlogPaws was held in Denver. Denver’s response? I’ll paraphrase: We don’t care. To prove how little they care, their city council voted to NOT allow pit bulls to work as service dogs. It’s appalling.

    Regardless of Denver, thank you for calling attention to phrasing. BSL is a watered-down term. But I do think it’s important to discuss muzzle laws, insurance requirements, mandatory spay/neuter, etc. as part of the bigger picture because these are all “gateway” ordinances that can/do lead to outright bans.

    1. You’re right, Maggie. As I mentioned in my response to Deborah, insurance requirements, etc. are important in themselves — and it’s a very slippery slope as you point out by mentioning they are all gateway ordinances.

      Using more precise language is just a start. Breed Discriminatory is better than Breed Specific. And putting “death” or “pet killing” somewhere into a phrase describing the results of these laws is a goal to aim for. Besides the end of all these laws of course!

  8. I’ll be back soon to read all the links provided by your commenters. Looks like there’s much more to know about this.

    The illogic astounds me. More deaths are caused in this country by cars than any other means but they are lightly regulated and not banned anywhere in the U.S. that I know of (with the exception of the occasional pedestrian mall).

    Guns cause fewer deaths than cars but they are shockingly dangerous and they are also lightly regulated and very rarely banned.

    I think one of the reasons these kinds of bans can be enforced is because we’re still licensing the dog instead of the person. Cars are registered but drivers are licensed. Same with guns.

    So if under current U.S. law, dogs are property, why isn’t it the property owner who is required to be licensed instead of the dog?

    If municipalities started making that simple (but logical) shift in the way it licenses pet owners, I don’t think we’d be able to have legally enforceable regulations against breeds. Someone’s ability to keep a dog of a particular breed would be determined by their adhering to the terms of the license (getting training, providing decent care, etc.) instead of the breed of the dog itself.

    I guess it’s a kind fine semantic argument but I think it’s at the core of why this kind of problem continues. Notice in the Michael Vick case that the dogs weren’t destroyed for participating in dog fights but the owner who forced them to do so was convicted (although I think it had more to do with racketeering than dog fighting charges, am I right?). The Vick case, with the first rehabilitation of dogs from a dog fighting facility, might actually be an early sign of hope in stopping breed discrimination.

    1. You’re absolutely right about it being an owner problem, not a dog problem. I suspect that there’s a tacit fear that people would not adopt/raise dogs if it became too difficult. But it SHOULD be difficult.

      The article that I wrote about BSL made the point about education being essential — and the owner needing to be responsible. One of my expert sources suggested that owners be required to take a test, on the model of a drivers license test. Seems like a good idea to me.

  9. I don’t think there is anything else I can add that hasn’t already been said. Denver’s situation is very serious. But it immediately brought to mind the similar laws in Ontario, Canada. Now that you have enlightened me as to the very real fears dog owners in Denver experience, and the horrifying way the city has dealt with pit bulls, I am going to do some research of my own. It is not enough just to shake my head. I can’t let myself remain ignorant of what is going on in my country any longer.

    1. Unlike Denver, the pit bull ban in Ontario is a province-wide ban. When Cesar Millan had a cross-Canada show, he couldn’t bring his pit bulls to the venues in Ontario! Love Cesar or hate him, he’s a great ambassador for the breed.

      1. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I’m going to have a guest post on the topic.

        I’m so sorry for the loss of your furry pal Zach, Lori. He sounds like a very sweet boy. The sweater incident is priceless.

  10. I have to chime in. First of all, LOTS of people in Denver APPROVE of the pit bull ban. That’s right – they think pit bulls are dangerous and THEY vote to uphold the ban. Yes, the new law requiring BSL cities NOT to discriminate against any breed as a service dog applies to Denver, also but the city council has already said they’ll take the law suits.

    So, we have citizens who don’t care to learn the facts supporting council members who have to do what they’re elected to do – that is, satisfy the people.

    BlogPaws was mortified to discover the BSL issue! We wanted to bring attention to it because you HAVE to protest if you want change! I know nothing seems to have come of it, but, we are still working to educate the public – because only when the citizens of Denver rise up and demand this ban be overturned, will that happen.

    Going forward, BlogPaws will not support any location that has even a hint of a ban… but, we, like many of you, learned more about this horrible issue during BlogPaws and afterwards, than we might have otherwise. We thank everyone who is rising up to protest. No dog should be banned – rather, let’s ban the people who mistreat them and teach them the horrible habits that get them in trouble. As a society, I believe we do ourselves a disservice when we allow breed bans to exist.

    Many voices, many hands, many blogs… may be the way to get breed bans overturned.

    1. Thank you for that update – I am so glad to hear that Yvonne! There are so many bloggers to tap who have a catalog of knowledge of what’s going on where, or who can point to experts in the field, and we are all willing to help! It takes a village and the good news is – we have one:)

    2. Thanks for clarifying about BlogPaws, Yvonne. I’ll be honest: Even though I sent a postcard and thought it was great that the conference supported a shelter that rescued pitbulls, I just didn’t get the connection between what was happening in Denver and the efforts at the conference. That’s not to suggest you all didn’t try to make the best of a bad situation and did a lot to call attention to the situation, but the fact is that if I — who tries to be tuned in to animal welfare causes — didn’t make the leap, you can bet there are others.

      But as you say, many voices, many hands, many blogs. And there’s no point looking backwards. When I expressed regret to Sonya for not understanding sooner, she wrote:

      I lived in Denver since the mid-90’s and didn’t know a thing about all this. And since 2005, when I did know, I’ve not been the best at getting the word out there as I had to stumble awhile first (and get mired in that pesky fear). And…prior to that, I probably had that same subconscious fear of pit bulls. I never thought about it, but it was there. It took one moment of transcendent love to change that in an instant.

      But my point of saying this is to lead up to something a great teacher in my religion said. And that is…Start where you are. I have to keep reminding myself of that as I’ve learned something and then looked back and thought to myself “How in the hell could I not have known that?!?” or “How could I have been so stupid?” And then I have to repeat it. Start where you are.

      1. What a brilliant, and gracious, concept. Thanks so much, Edie, for sharing Sonya’s words. I will be starting from where I am … and repeating it often!

        -Chandra at Daley’s Dog Years

  11. Wow… this was a really eye-opening post, Edie. I don’t think I had any clue that this type of legislation resulted in the senseless slaughter of so many animals. It’s extremely sad to read about and incredibly frustrating as well… I agree with you that terms like BSL take the sting out of it and obscure what’s really going on. Breed bans are ridiculous, small-minded, and ignorant. Great points made by everyone here in the comments – I’ll be coming back to read more of these links and keep up with the discussion.

  12. Passing by a little late here, but I also think the name BSL is hidding a much more awful truth. It is in it core racial discrimination. After the BSL was introduced in Denamrk, banning 13 breeds and requiring people with dogs belonging to those breeds to go with muzzles other developments and discussions are taking place that remind so much of racial discrimination examples from our history. Like Apartheid.

    For example, a town in Denmark now also wants to block the banned breeds access from going to the dog park. If they wear a muzzle or not doesn’t matter. They are not welcome. Maybe they can put a sign on the places and say “Whites only”, because that is what it is.

    1. I very much agree. In fact, in the original version of this post, I suggested calling BSL “Dog holocaust laws” and explained why I had the right to say that, ie., that I had grandparents, aunts and uncles who were killed in the capital “h” holocaust. But a lot of people don’t have as much sympathy for dogs as they do for people, and I didn’t want to be sensationalist and distract from the issue at hand. But if the analogy fits — and I think it does with apartheid and any form of ethnic cleansing — then it fits.

  13. Thank you again Edie for posting about something I and many others were unaware of. This makes me so sick. This is absolutely a human issue, not a dog issue – frankly, it always is. I always say this because it is true in my opinion: until animals are given more rights and not considered property this disgusting stuff is going to keep happening. Either that or, we need some very powerful people with money to fight stuff like this. There are animal rights attorneys and I think a good one could get on this wagon and do something. Lastly; this should be a headline in a major newspaper “Denver seizes dogs from loving homes, responsible owners and KILLS them.”

    1. I’d love to see that headline too! That’ll be the day… sigh…

      I don’t think the problem is the definition of dogs as property. Quite the opposite, in this case. In most circumstances, the government is not allowed to seize another person’s property and dispose of it as they see fit. (Substitute the term “guns” here, if you believe the dogs are dangerous.) Why, then, is it possible to confiscate and destroy dogs?

  14. BSL is just BS! Dogs are just as dangerous as the humans that raise them. Although we live in an area rich in doggie diversity, it is heart wrenching to see amazing dogs – mostly pitties & pit mixes – being destroyed by the ACC every day.

  15. Great post, Edie – and the comments are fantastic! It’s wonderful that you’ve brought this issues to the attention of so many more people. We run into the breed restrictions all the time as part of our travels and a while ago we set up a page for our users, to help educate them on the issue and provide them with some additional resources including maps of affected areas with lists of the breeds discriminated against. Thanks to your post, I’ve beefed up that page – including re-titling it “Breed Discrimination Laws.” I think this is a much more accurate term and in-and-of itself will help to spread awareness.

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