Denver's pit-bull ban snares more than pit bulls

amstaff.jpg
Incognito and on the run: an American Staffordshire Terrier.
He was in our front yard and a little hard to miss. About as inconspicuous as a Hummer in a rose garden. And my wife, Lisa, wanted to rescue him.

Maybe it's because of all the old houses and flimsy fences, maybe it's the proximity to major highways and West Colfax -- but our neighborhood seems to be a favorite haunt of stray dogs. Greyhounds, boxers, border collies, chow mixes of all persuasions: They wander to our door, and Lisa befriends them, feeds them, checks for tags, returns them to the worried-sick (or clueless) owner with a stern lecture, or hauls them to the shelter if necessary. But we had never seen anything like this before.

He was a big boy, a hundred-twenty pounds or so, with a massive pumpkin head, cropped ears and a skull like Gibraltar. A lovely brindle, beady eyes with glints of gold. His balls were intact. His collar, if he ever had one, was not on him anymore.

He was friendly as all get-out. Came right up to us and smeared a thick glaze of drool on my forearm like I was his favorite towel. We didn't know what he was. A bull mastiff mix of some kind, maybe. Too big to be a pit bull, anyway. Lisa decided to call him Knuckles.

We didn't know it yet, but Knuckles was a marked dog. By virtue of his breed, not his behavior, he's on the City of Denver's canine hit list.

If Knuckles knew he was targeted for elimination, he gave no clue. He inhaled a bucket of water, soaking the back deck in the process with the ferocious action of his jowls. He gobbled dog biscuits and expressed a keen interest in meeting our dogs. Bad idea, we figured, since he could easily pin both of them with one of his ham-hock paws tied behind his back.

It was getting late, so we took him to the Denver Dumb Friends League overnight drop-off, leaving a note about where he was found and a donation. Mindful of Denver's infamous pit-bull ban, Lisa asked to be contacted if the DDFL found that he was part pit, so we could relocate him out of the city.

She called the next morning. She was told that Knuckles is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Actually, after studying various photos of different breeds, I think he's more of an American Staffordshire ("amstaff" for short) -- but it doesn't really matter, since both breeds are defined as pit bulls according to the Denver municipal code ban on the breed that went into effect in 2005. And no, we couldn't reclaim him. This means Knuckles would have been euthanized if his owner didn't show up to claim him.

Which, fortunately, he did. Turns out Knuckles, or whatever his rightful name is, has a microchip in his neck. One presumes his owner lives outside the city limits. In any event, he was allowed to take the big fella home, where he can slurp water and snarf biscuits to his heart's content.

Websites devoted to the breed describe the Staffordshire as a loyal, even-keeled breed, devoted to children. (They're also monstrously strong, as I found out when trying to steer Knuckles into his cell for the night; he was doing most of the steering.) Certainly, there's nothing in our encounter with Knuckles to suggest he posed any kind of threat to humans, other than possibly drowning them when he paused to hydrate. But then, how you look at a dog like Knuckles depends on how solidly you embrace the city's much-disputed ban of an entire breed (and related breeds). Lawsuits and the "Denver Kills Dogs" campaign, launched by a California vet, present some compelling, if not entirely conclusive, arguments that the city's euthanizing of hundreds of dogs since the ban went into effect has done little to improve public safety while traumatizing plenty of dog lovers.

Until the city's ban is modified or thrown out, admirers of big, strong, pit bullish breeds have a continuing mess on their hands. So do dog rescuers: Do you take a stray dog to a Denver area shelter, knowing you're risking its elimination? (Yes, I know Max Fund is no-kill -- both our dogs came from there -- but it's not open at night.) Or is time for an underground railroad for Knuckles and other outcasts?

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10 comments
Lraven888
Lraven888

Well sorry first of all yet do not know that this dog's parent owner just let his dog run free as you put it, dogs are lost everyday by responsible pet owners, sometimes it i someone else's fault the animal gets lost in the first place...so that is speculation, the dog was chipped and the owner retrieved him so obviously the owner cared. This could happen to me or you at any time with our pets so i would not be so quick to pass judgement here. I'm happy and proud to live in a city that does NOT support BSL and I think Denver and all this places that do need to change that. Pitbulls do not have locking jaws or even the strongest bite that is all myth. They are a breed of dog not a breed of alligator and they do not just one day "turn" anymore than any other breed of dog would, i remember growing up ppl had the same issues with German shepherds and dobermans and pits were dogs you saw on the Little Rascal reruns as Petey is all bs and the real monsters are the people who abuse these animals and than have a mean dog which in the same hands could make a collie just as dangerous. It's sad and my heart goes out to all those who've suffered because of BSL needlessly!

Marc
Marc

 I've had 3 pits and all of my neighbors can vouch that my pits were more well mannered and taken care of than human kids, because of Colorado's law i was forced to leave them in NC. I have never once had an issue with them around other dogs they are very loyal but protective when it comes to strangers but will warm up to them being that they come around a lot, there have been times where i can go on a vacation and have my neighbor feed them and not have a worry...It's just mainly the person who raises them which will determine how they act and NO they don't turn on you, there was a period where i didn't see one of them for over a year and she ran up to me like she just seen me the day before so its all just a bunch of BS and a reason to ban and very friendly and loyal breed. see one of them for over a year and she ran up to me like she just seen me the day before so its all just a bunch of BS and a reason to ban and very friendly and loyal breed.

ANNACHRISTINE
ANNACHRISTINE

When are people going to wake up and smell the coffee any dog can be dangerous no matter the size Knuckles might have gotten along great with the founder dogs but the use their brains good for them. I wish more people would do what they did. I have a friend that was attack by a nieghbors dog which was a weiner dog and it tore up his face, arms, and legs. That is a dangerous dog. Funny how the guys pitbull a so called vicous dog didn't even move while his owner was being attack. IT IS NOT THE DOG IT IS THE OWNER ONCE THE CITY STARTS EUTHANIZING THE OWNERS OF VICOUIS DOGS THEN MAYBE WE CAN ALL HAVE THE DOG WE CHOOSE TO HAVE AS OUR FAMILY MEMBER.

Steve2
Steve2

Fuck denver, I think all the council members who voted for this should be locked up , try taking my dog away and it will be someone else being put down !!!

Crod
Crod

I have 2 Pits in my life. One I had for 6 years then I adopted a newborn (human) son and NEVER had a problem.

Bottom line, Pits are very similar to humans. They need alot of attention and love. If you neglect a human child, you will have a problem, if you tease a human child, you will have a problem, if you abuse a human child, you will have a problem.

Punish the person, not the pit. They are God's creation and God would not create anythinhg evil. We humans create that.

I think the Pit is the most loving dog in the world.

Erica
Erica

It's certainly true that Knuckles' owner needs a knuckle to the head in hopes that it will wake him up. It's great that the dog had a microchip, and we can give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that the dog might have slipped his collar, but living with such a breed so near Denver I would think that you would make SURE that your dog is secure! I will even give him the benefit of the doubt as to reasons the dog might not have been neutered, but it's inexcusable that his pup was ever put at risk. Thank you for caring about "Knuckles".

I am a firm believer that there is no place for the BSL laws. Outlawing a breed does nothing to prevent dog bites. In fact, all it does is take the breeds that need responsible owners out of the hands of those owners. The people that will disobey the law are the people who are creating the issues in the first place.

Pit Bulls (a type, not a breed), Amstaffs, and Staffies are NOT human-aggressive breeds. They have been culled for decades to make sure of that fact. Any variation on this is a recently created mutt that irresponsible people bred for that purpose, and these are not the law-abiding folk that will follow the BSL ordinances.

BSL goes beyond Pits to affect other breeds, 26 in total throughout the nation, many of which have been considered loving family breeds for decades. The laws are useless and self-defeating and an outrage to the dog owner community. There are many other ways to control this issue, if it really is so great an issue and not just a media frenzy. Licensing, temperment testing, required pass grade of the Canine Good Citizens test...the list goes on.

I am a proud owner of a Pit mix and a mixed breed bully who would be identified in Denver as a Pit Bull even though he does not have an ounce of Pit in him. I will never live in Denver.

Kat
Kat

I agree absolutely with your assessment, Alan. Largely dog attacks are caused by owner negligence or irresponsibility, rather than because of the dog's breed.

People like this are ruining Colorado for me. I recently had to relocate north from Colorado Springs and had a devil of a time finding a city where I wouldn't have to give up my 50lb Pit mix. My dog is well-socialized, licensed, spayed and vaccinated, never left outside, sleeps at the foot of my bed with her tongue hanging out and attacks me with kisses whenever possible. On the flip-side, I realize I have a responsibility to keep my dog under control at all times, which means never leaving her unattended with children or strangers just on the off chance that a conflict might arise.

I have never had a more loving, attentive and good natured dog in all my life and because I refuse to give her up, I cannot live in Denver, Aurora, Commerce City and Castle Rock.

Anonymous
Anonymous

No, but it lessens the danger. Pit bulls aren't just any breed.

Alan Prendergast
Alan Prendergast

Thanks for the feedback, Littletonite. Yes, I would certainly agree that every loose dog, no matter how cuddly looking, is a danger -- to himself, other pets, traffic, etc. And I absolutely agree that it's the knucklehead owners who should be held responsible. But that's kind of my point about the breed ban -- the people who have vicious and/or poorly controlled dogs are the ones who need to be neutered pronto. Take away their pit bulls, and they'll go abuse a rottweiler instead. Banning a particular breed doesn't address that problem, does it?

Littletonite
Littletonite

You didn't let Knuckles get near your own dogs because you anticipated trouble. So you obviously see the danger these dogs can pose to other dogs, not just to humans.

But the pit bull ban exists in Denver not because Denver hates pit bulls. Rather, Denver rightly has zero tolerance for people like Knuckles' knuckleheaded owner. No collar? Allowing the dog to roam the city? That's just inexcusable idiocy, and unfortunately pit bulls in Denver pay the ultimate price for their owners' irresponsibility.

Sure, sure, every dog owner claims that their darling pup wouldn't hurt a flea. They talk about how loving and gentle their dog is. But all dogs, potentially, can and will bite.

When Froofroo the poodle gets loose and roams city streets, it's obnoxious and possibly dangerous. When Knuckles runs loose, it's potentially deadly. Knuckles's jaws are powerful enough to crush your bones, and nothing short of knocking him unconscious will make him let go of whatever he's seized upon, be it another dog or a child's head. Froofroo, not so much.

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