Pit bulls banned from Denver area adopted at local shelter
SUMMIT COUNTY – One week ago, six adult pit bulls were transferred to the Summit County Animal Shelter from Weld County, and already four of the animals are in the process of being adopted. The presence of pit bulls is growing in areas outside of Denver, where an ordinance banning the breed was reinstated in April. Since May, more than 380 dogs have been impounded and 260 killed because of the ban.A few of the animals are ending up in the local shelter, sparking debate over the breed’s nature.Mark Cowan, a veterinarian at Buffalo Mountain Animal Hospital in Silverthorne, said he understands differing opinions on the animal, which some label as bred to be vicious.
“I hate to see a specific breed being singled out, because I don’t see pit bulls being more aggressive than other breeds, provided they’re not trained to be fighting dogs,” Cowan said. “But they’re designed to latch on and not let go – that’s where the danger comes in.”Historically, members of the breed were trained to subdue bulls by biting onto the beasts’ snouts and hanging on. Their jaw structure and facial muscles, Cowan said, are far more powerful than those of a golden retriever, for example. The breed is feared because any bites that do occur are more serious than those from an average dog. Commerce City, Thornton, Aurora and Greeley are all considering banning the breed. Though 37 different breeds have killed humans, a 36-year study covering 431 fatal dog attacks found that 21 percent of the attacks were by pit bulls.Traci Bratton has seen no such violent tendencies in Irie, her 2-year-old pit bull. Bratton adopted the dog from the local shelter soon after she began volunteering there. Bratton also houses foster kittens, and said Irie is great with the cats. “I didn’t know anything about pit bulls besides what you hear in the media until I started volunteering,” she said, “but they quickly became my favorite breed. People shouldn’t be ruled by their fears; a lot of times all you’re hearing is the negative.”
Bratton said passers-by are often frightened by Irie, but are quickly put at ease when she trots up to them, tail wagging vigorously. Lesley Hall, animal control supervisor at the Summit County shelter, said she uses a case-by-case approach.”We look beyond the breed,” Hall said. “We look at the animal to see if it’s going to be a viable pet. If it’s not – it could a Chihuahua – we’re not going to place that animal. Dogs can become aggressive for a number of different reasons.” In his experience, Cowan said he’s encountered more friendly pit bulls than aggressive ones, but said that the breed’s rough reputation makes for the additional danger of irresponsible ownership.
“A person that has a pit bull is probably more likely to train it to be aggressive than someone who goes out and buys a golden retriever,” he said. “The people that are into that, they want the tough-looking, macho dog.” Debbie Merkle, a field supervisor at the Aurora Animal Shelter, said Thursday that the shelter just outside Denver is housing 19 pit bulls, the highest number of a single breed the shelter has seen. Merkle’s overall impression of the breed is that it’s violent, but one pit bull brought in by its owner “would prefer to run away from the cats than run at them,” she said.Hall said she and her colleagues at the Summit County Animal Shelter go to great lengths to screen dogs and owners for adoption. The dogs are tested for aggression and interaction with other animals and humans. Staff members use a fake rubber hand on a stick, fill a bowl with food and put the fake hand in the bowl while the dog eats. If the animal bites the rubber hand, it’s a red flag. Potential owners are similarly tested, grilled on their pet history, living situation, plans for the animal and reasons for adopting, she said.
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