Ban Has Denver Pit Bulls Marked for Death

For Sonya Dias, when the choice came down to leaving the city she loved and the Victorian home she had painstakingly restored or giving up her dog, there was no contest.

Her house is on the market and her bags are packed, because Denver says she cannot keep her beloved pet, a pit bull named Gryffindor. After several high-profile pit bull attacks, the city enacted a law banning the breed, but Dias insists concern about her pet is unwarranted.

"He's just a big old dork, a slobbering lummox of a dog," Dias said. "I don't see how he's a danger to anybody."

Because of Denver's 1989 ban on pit bulls, Gryffindor would have likely been collected by animal control officers and killed. The city has been enforcing the law with a vengeance since May 9, when the state Supreme Court allowed the ordinance to stand despite a state law barring breed-specific bans.

Already, the city has rounded up at least 380 pit bulls and killed at least 260 of them, according to documents that opponents of the ban obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

"Some of the family dogs they had in the back yard and they [animal control officers] climbed over the fence and nabbed them," said Dias, who works as a loan officer at a mortgage company. "Some they came and people didn't know they didn't have to let animal control into the house without a warrant."

At first, Dias decided to become a criminal to keep her dog. She hid Gryffindor, hoping to be able to keep both her home and her best friend. But that didn't last.

"I am not cut out for a life on the lam," she said. "I put my house on the market, found a beautiful sanctuary [for Gryffindor] and now my cousin has him outside the city limits."

Horrifying Attacks Spurred Ban

Judging from Dias' description, Gryffindor may not be the dog that the city's ban was written for, but his breed meant he would have fallen victim to it had he remained in Denver.

The law was written in 1989, after two horrific pit bull attacks in Denver, one that killed a 3-year-old boy and another that left a 59-year-old minister with 70 bite wounds and two broken legs.

Until May 9, though, the ban had been in limbo because of a state law signed by Gov. Bill Owens that, in addition to making owners liable for injuries the first time a dog bites, also prohibited cities and counties from outlawing specific breeds. That law was passed following the fatal mauling of an Elbert County woman by three pit bulls.

The city sued the state in May 2004, arguing the law violated Denver's home rule, and in April a judge ruled for Denver, allowing the ban to be enforced.

City officials say that the 16 years since the ban was first passed have not diminished the need for it.

"The urban environment of Denver is a heck of a lot different than the outback of Australia," Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson said after the court ruled in the city's favor. "These dogs pose such a risk should they attack. We think as a community we shouldn't have them."

Dogs or 'Land Sharks'?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pit bulls and rottweilers account for more fatal attacks on humans than any other dogs, though other breeds account for more non-fatal attacks.

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