Animal Law Review

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In August of 1989, the City and County of Denver, Colorado enacted legislation that prohibits the presence of all ‘pit bull-type dogs’ (PBTDs) within the city limits. In Denver, PBTDs are defined as: American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, or Staffordshire bull terrier. In the thirty years the ‘pit bull ban’ has been in place, the City and County of Denver and its animal control agency, Denver Animal Protection, have committed substantial resources to removing PBTDs from the community, including patrolling communities and responding to complaints made by neighbors, conducting thorough breed evaluations of suspected PBTDs, and kenneling PBTDs found in the city limits. The Social-Environmental-Economic Impact Assessment (SEEIA) underlying this Article examines how the City and County of Denver’s Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) policy has impacted the economic and social systems of the Denver community.

An economic assessment of BSL identified that the City and County of Denver has spent at least $5.8 million on enforcing the legislation, with additional economic analyses estimating BSL resulted in approximately $107 million in lost direct and indirect economic activity related to lost pet care revenue. BSL in the City and County of Denver resulted in an extended length of stay for PBTDs in the care of animal shelters and also placed undue strain on transfer partnerships with shelters in surrounding communities. An estimated $1 million has been spent by shelters in surrounding communities to care for the PBTDs that are transferred as a result of BSL. An assessment of the social impacts of BSL determined that the removal of a single breed of dog is inconsistent with the documented benefits of increasing opportunities for pet-keeping in the community. Furthermore, the disproportionate enforcement of BSL in underserved communities and communities of color perpetuates historic trends of discrimination and marginalization in the United States, and negatively impacts social cohesion of these communities.

Despite some of the more negative impacts of the legislation, there appear to be a number of social factors that have sustained Denver’s pit bull ban. While in the minority of opinions, 19.4% of Denver residents who participated in an online survey about BSL (n = 252) said that the City and County of Denver’s breed ban positively impacted their perception of Denver and 24.6% of Denver residents said that the breed ban makes them feel safer. This perceived increase in sense of safety, even if only reported for a minority percentage of Denver residents, may continue to serve as the primary reason for policymakers to continue the ban in the present day.

The breed ban’s prioritization of human public safety at the expense of the welfare of a specific type of dog, particularly without a substantial impact on the former, represents a diversion from the components that contribute to a humane community. In conclusion, we recommend alternatives to BSL that will address the root causes of the issue of dangerous dogs, including: building the City and County of Denver’s capacity to support residents in caring for their pets by identifying and expanding the pet-support infrastructure such as affordable and accessible veterinary and behavior services, implementing robust non-breed-specific Dangerous Dog laws that include opportunities for early pet education and intervention with at-risk individuals, and implementing evidence-based interventions for challenges to social cohesion, and interpersonal and interspecies violence.

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