Jasmine Blue's Tails of the Dog Park

Chapter 52: The pit bull genocide

Lennox as a puppy

gen·o·cide \ˈje-nə-ˌsīd\
Noun: The deliberate killing of a large group, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

On July 11, 2012, a black dog named Lennox was put to death in Belfast, Ireland. The seven-year-old mixed breed was confined in a municipal pound for two years while his owners brought legal action in an attempt to save his life. Belfast has a pit bull ban, and despite the family’s assertions that Lennox was not a pit bull and had never attacked anyone or anything, wardens deemed him to be a public danger and seized him in April of 2010. Public outcry was swift — even Victoria Stilwell, British dog trainer and host of the Animal Planet program, It’s Me or the Dog, pleaded with officials to spare Lennox, even offering to help resettle him in the United States.

There is overwhelming evidence that breed bans don’t work, but cities around the world continue to impose draconian laws against the 99 percent of pit bull owners who are law-abiding citizens with law-abiding dogs. In Denver, Colo., where pit bulls have been banned for more than two decades, dogs are routinely dragged from their owners’ homes, taken to the shelter, and killed — just because of the way they look. More than 3,500 pit-bull-type dogs have lost their lives since Denver enacted the ban. Yet, according to a study by the University of Colorado, out of the 537 dog-attack hospitalizations in Denver between 2003 and 2008, Labrador retriever was the number one biting breed, responsible for 13.3 percent of those hospitalizations. Denver also has more dog bites than anywhere else in the state, while Colorado counties without pit bull bans showed fewer people per capita going to the hospital for dog-related injuries.

For Denver to ban an entire breed, you probably would assume there were many fatalities caused by pit bulls there, but you would be wrong. Since 1980, there have been only two fatalities attributed to pit bulls and pit-bull-type dogs. And Denver isn’t alone in the pit bull genocide. In Miami, Fla., which has also banned pit bulls for two decades, 181 “suspected pit bulls” have been confiscated so far in 2012, and 83 have been killed. The ban was inspired by a single attack in 1989 that received widespread media coverage and was championed by then Metro-Dade Commissioner Joe Gersten (who later fled to Australia after being caught with prostitutes in a crack house). Almost immediately, the ban’s flaws became apparent. An owner chained 16 pit bulls to a tree in a field and left them to starve to death rather than face the $500 fine for each dog. The Miami Herald wrote a scathing editorial calling for the ban’s repeal. The following year, Florida’s legislature passed a statewide prohibition against breed specific legislation (BSL) — unfortunately, Miami’s ban was grandfathered in. Countless people have been forced to move to save their dogs, like art gallery worker Pierre Bahri, who fled to Hollywood, Fla., after an Animal Control officer gave him 48 hours to get rid of his two pit bulls. After 23 years, Miami’s pit bull ban — which has proven to be ineffective, expensive and hard to enforce — will be on the ballot this month, allowing voters to decide whether it should be repealed.

In 2006, the city of Aurora, Colo., followed Denver in banning all pit-bull-type dogs, including any dogs that “resemble pit bulls.” Owners who aren’t sure whether the family pet resembles a pit bull can bring them to the animal shelter, and for a $25 fee the staff will evaluate and decide. If the staff says it is a pit bull, the owners are forced to purchase a $200 special license, muzzle their dog on walks, and prove they have $100,000 liability insurance. The city killed 636 pit-bull-type dogs in the first year of the ban. In 2008, the city began a two-year analysis, and the statistics proved once again that breed bans don’t work. In 2005, the year before the ban, there were 137 dog bites in Aurora — 27 from pit-bull-type dogs and 110 for all other breeds.

In 2006, when enforcement of the ban began, there were again 137 bites — 8 from pit-bull-type dogs and 129 from all others. But in 2007, one year after the ban took effect, there were 172 bites — 15 from pit-bull-type dogs and 157 from other breeds. The report demonstrated that since the pitbull ban, Aurora has seen nearly a 30 percent increase in overall dog bites and nearly a 45 percent increase in bites by non-pit-bull-type breeds. Still, City Councilman Larry Beer, chairman of the city’s code enforcement committee, said, “I think Aurora is a safer place to be today because of this ordinance.”

I wonder how safe Mr. Beer feels in Aurora after the tragic movie theater massacre on July 20. With 58 people wounded and 12 murdered during a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, it is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. In just seconds, 24-year-old James Holmes killed more people in Aurora than dogs have killed in the entire country this year. Perhaps Aurora should be banning semiautomatic assault rifles rather than pit bulls, and focusing their energies on the animal that poses the biggest threat to humans … other humans.

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