University of Denver study focuses on Denver’s pit bull ban

For the first time since it was enacted in 1989, voters in Denver, Colorado will have the opportunity to decide the fate of the city’s 30 year old pit bull ban.  There have been many challenges and initiatives to repeal one of the most restrictive animal control laws in the United States, and in February 2020, Denver’s City Council voted to repeal the ban.  However, that decision was vetoed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who cited public safety and irresponsible pet owners.

A new University of Denver study published in Animal Law Review by the Institute for Human-Animal Connection and the Graduate School of Social Work, calls the public safety argument into question.  (Please note, I have not seen the study, and I am relying solely on news article released by the University of Denver found at the above link.)

Acknowledging the strong opinions surrounding the ban, as well as a wealth of misinformation and assumptions, Kevin Morris, American Humane endowed chair and research associate professor, says the study was designed to “bring data and objective analyses of those data to the discussion, so that people can make more informed decisions about keeping the legislation or coming up with something that might be more effective.”

Morris and his team began digging into this topic three years ago to determine the economic, social, and animal welfare impacts.

Using data from Denver Animal Protection, the agency that enforces the ban, the study found that the city has spent more than $100 million enforcing the ban, with little measurable impact on public safety.

According to Morris, the study, along with the research, notes the following:

  • While bites from “pit-bull type dogs” have gone down in the prohibition’s 30 years, so have dog bites overall.
  • Unequal enforcement of the pit bull ban in the city’s most vulnerable areas, particularly in places described as “racially diverse communities intersect with predominantly white neighborhoods.” 
  • The enforcement of the ban has taken place primarily in our communities of color in Denver. This criminalization of certain pet owners has exacerbated the barriers they already experience to accessing pet support services.
  • The ban not only effects Denver, but also its neighbors.  Because the animal welfare system in Colorado thrives through collaboration, the ban means  that any pit bull that comes into the care of Denver Animal Protection must either be euthanized or transferred to another community.
  • The study refers to this phenomenon as the “bad neighbor effect,” largely because it adds pressure to the state’s sheltering system. To save canine lives and ease Denver’s burden, nearby shelters partner with Denver Animal Protection to take in pit bulls, offering them a chance at adoption.

The study is not meant to support or condemn the ban but, rather, is an effort to educate voters, and it does identify efforts elsewhere that have reported promising outcomes.  

Sloane Hawes, University of Denver Sturm College of Law research associate and project manager for the study, stated as follows:

  • Communities throughout the U.S. and internationally that have adopted comprehensive, breed-neutral dangerous dog policies and seen improvements in public health and safety outcomes such as decreases in bite cases or adherence to leash laws.
  • The field of animal welfare is beginning to recognize the need for more proactive support services that can keep pets with their families, like affordable veterinary and behavior care, so that punitive enforcement like [a breed ban] isn’t necessary.

According to Hawes, “The conclusion we draw in the paper is [the ban] is detracting from Denver’s perception as a humane community. On a national level, Denver is really a leader in animal sheltering in all ways except for the presence of [the ban] … At the heart of what the humane communities’ framework proposes is the recognition that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected. The health and resilience of an entire community is compromised when certain populations of people or animals are disproportionately targeted.”

Since it’s inception, for those who are unaware, Denver’s ban has resulted in the execution of over 6,000 dogs simply because they had the misfortune of possessing the physical characteristics of a “pit bull.”  It’s important to note that the Denver ban, as with every law that targets “pit bulls,” focuses on physical appearance, thus making them incredibly biased and ridiculously subjective.  In the case of pit bull regulations, breed is in the eye of the beholder, literally — it’s just that simple. 

Denver’s pit bull ban was enacted when there was little to no research on breed specific legislation.  As in almost every case where it has been enacted, it was a kneejerk reaction to a dog attack.  It has resulted in the killing of THOUSANDS of innocent dogs and the “criminalization” of equally innocent, responsible dog owners. 

Even IF Denver city officials had the best intentions and thought enacting the ban was a good idea 30 years, we now have the benefit of data which shows breed specific legislation to be ineffective, unenforceable, and extremely costly with little to show to the community that is footing the bill. 

While Denver has been ignoring the facts and the trends in animal welfare and community safety, the rest of the country has come to realize that dangerous dogs are the product of dangerous and careless owners, not a result of a dog’s breed or appearance. Multiple municipalities have repealed breed specific laws over the last decade, not to mention the many states that have adopted measures barring the passage of breed specific legislation.

Statistics don’t lie.  The facts are presented before you.  STOP letting irresponsible owners off the hook. STOP singling out members in your community. Bring personal accountability back to pet ownership in Denver. The humane choice to better, safer communities is on the ballot.  And while that choice still leaves breed restrictions in place, even this small step is a move in the right direction that could eventually lead to full repeal.

It’s time Denver.  Please do the right thing. 

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