Pitbull attack spurs Breckenridge to consider breed-specifc ban or restrictions for dangerous dogs
It was all bite and no bark that inspired an investigation into outlawing dangerous dogs.
The town of Breckenridge is seeking feedback about possible restrictions or bans on certain dog breeds.
In August, two loose pit bulls attacked a beagle on Hoosier Pass, resulting in severe injuries to the dog and a deputy shooting and killing one of the pit bulls.
Town council responded by reviewing the restrictions and bans in place in other Colorado towns. Research found that eight communities have banned specific breeds: Denver, Aurora, Fort Lupton, Lone Tree, Louisville, Castle Rock, Commerce City and La Junta.
A survey on the Engage Breckenridge website currently allows community members to weigh in.
Kathy Martiny, president and executive director of Animal Rescue of the Rockies, said in her online comments there is no such thing as a dangerous breed.
“All dogs have the potential to bite or harm other dogs or people,” she wrote. “Ultimately, people are the ones responsible for a dog’s behavior, and people are the ones who should be held accountable for their actions.”
The survey asks what people perceive to be the most dangerous breeds, including doberman pinscher, mastiff, German shepherd, pit bull, malamute, chow, rottweiler, husky or other.
The survey also asks what the biggest dog issue is in Breckenridge, and if there should be more restrictions, or a ban, on specific breeds deemed more dangerous.
In the comments, people advocated more preventative measures such as holding owners responsible, or leashes and muzzles.
Stephen G., whose last name was not posted per Engage Breckenridge policy, wrote, “Enforcement of existing leash laws is far better than attempting to ban specific breeds. Breckenridge is a dog-friendly community and most residents and visitors enjoy seeing and meeting the happy canines of Summit County.”
Colorado and Summit County have laws dealing with dangerous dogs. In September, Lesley Hall, Animal Control director, wrote a letter to the county manager regarding dangerous dogs and breed-specific laws.
“Adopting dangerous dog laws that are comprehensive rather than breed selective (is) more effective in addressing public safety since all dogs are included,” she said.
The town of Breckenridge does have numerous dog regulations in place, including a leash law that says, “any dog off the owner’s property must be on a substantial leash. Loose animals can be hazardous.” There are also ordinances in place for noise disturbances, animal bites and cruelty.
At a presentation to town council in September, Police Chief Shannon Haynes said since 2011, the town has issued 15 citations for 31 bite calls, none of which involved pit bulls. There have been 86 citations for 115 “dog at large” calls.
“There are very few dogs licensed in Breck that are pit bulls,” she said.
The Breckenridge Police Department could not be reached Thursday, Oct. 24, to determine the exact number of licensed pit bulls.
Martiny said dangerous dog ordinances more effectively ensure public safety because they focus on individual dogs, not breeds.
“You can have an aggressive, dangerous lab right next to a sweet, friendly pit bull, and people who don’t know any better will judge the lab to be the ‘better’ dog,” she wrote.
A majority of town council members wanted to initiate a public process to see how the community felt about a possible ban. Mayor John Warner, Councilman Ben Brewer and Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamney said they wanted more information and to reach out to the community. McAtamney said she was concerned about bigger dog problems, such as dogs on the loose. Councilmen Mike Dudick and Gary Gallagher said they would support a ban.
“Statistically, the number of bites is not more than other dogs,” Haynes said. “It’s the severity of the bite that comes with a pit bull.”
Most Colorado ordinances provide definitions of the prohibited breeds, which in most cases include, “American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier” or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits or genetic markers of one or more of those breeds.
Lisa L., who has owned pit bulls in the past, said on Engage Breckenridge the town should enforce the laws on the books and increase penalties, if needed. “Dogs are an extension of their owner and if the owner is out of control, the dog will be, too,” she wrote.
Ordinances banning certain breeds also generally permit applying for a pit bull license, transporting through the jurisdiction and operating veterinarian practices and dog shows.
As part of grandfathering in current animals, a pit bull license is issued to an owner who applies prior to the enactment of the local ordinance or within a set time frame after, or if the owner has a designated service animal. Stipulations often include proof of liability insurance, spaying/neutering, microchip insertion, confinement requirements as well as muzzle and leash requirements. Significant fines, possible jail time and possible destruction of the animal are some consequences.
Erica R. wrote on the survey the issue was about the dog owner, not the dog. “Every breed of dog has the potential to bite or attack so I support stricter leash laws to prevent attacks but not prohibition of certain breeds,” she wrote.
ColoRADogs is an organization dedicated to fighting stereotypes, claiming responsible ownership is not breed specific. President Nancy Tranzow shared her opinion on Engage Breckenridge, writing breed-specific legislation has not been found to protect public health and safety.
“It punishes responsible owners who have a breed ‘perceived’ to be one deemed dangerous,” she said. “ColoRADogs works to help encourage communities to adopt breed-neutral legislation that addresses reckless owners and hold them responsible for irresponsible behavior.”
The city and county of Denver breed-specific ordinance has been challenged several times since it was passed in 1989. In 2004, the state of Colorado passed a statute prohibiting municipalities from enacting breed-specific bans.
Robin R. wrote more research should come from “looking at the consequences of similar bans in other communities,” not just public opinion.
Denver filed a civil complaint citing its ability as a home rule entity to enact and enforce legislation as a matter of local or jurisdictional concern, which was upheld by the District Court.
“These discriminatory laws have cost other communities … millions of dollars to implement and defend,” Tranzow wrote. “Dog behaviorists along with true experts such as the Humane Society of the United States and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and others all stand in solidarity against breed specific legislation.”
As of Thursday, Oct. 24, there were no comments outright supporting a breed-specific ban.
The Engage Breckenridge survey about possible restrictions for certain dog breeds will remain online until Monday, Nov. 4.
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