The morning that animal control came for Mateo, his owner, a veterinary technician at a Denver clinic, shuffled him into the garage, placed him in the car and put a blanket over his small caramel and white body.
When the agent arrived at her doorstep asking for the illegal pit bull her neighbors had reported, she said she didn't have it. That afternoon, she sent him to Monument, where he was picked up and taken to Colorado Springs.
"Because he was quiet, he saved his life," says Traci Green, fundraising chair for All Breed Rescue and Training, the local organization that helped smuggle the dog out of Denver.
Today, 2-year-old Mateo lives in a foster home in Colorado Springs. Once plagued with parvo, an intestinal disease, he now races through his new home, knocking over furniture as he chases the other family dogs. Occasionally, like most pit bulls, he gets the "zoomies," and runs circles around the outside of the house something he could never do in Denver.
Mateo is just one of the thousands of pit bulls and pit mixes that have been evacuated from Denver since the city reinstated its controversial pit bull ban a year and a half ago. In recent months, Colorado Springs' animal shelters have been inundated with the dogs. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, which acts as the city's animal control agency, took in 1,316 of them, most of them as strays, over the first 10 months of 2006.
"It has to do with people not wanting their animals to be euthanized, and dumping them in the Springs," says Ann Davenport, spokesperson for the Humane Society.
In what has been referred to as the "Holocaust on dogs," cities in at least 10 states have instated breed bans since a dogfighting ring was busted in California in the late 1980s. Denver's ban, widely considered the most severe, was first created through a City Council ordinance in 1989, after pit bulls killed a 3-year-old and mauled an elderly minister in the city.
The ban was lifted in 2004 after state legislation outlawed breed-specific prohibitions. A year later after many pit bull owners had registered their new pets Denver claimed "home rule" and reinstated the ban.
What followed, according to All Breed Executive Director Lauren Fox, was a veritable pit bull hunt; Denver Animal Control targeted the pets it could track first. In the past year, the city has impounded roughly 1,500 pit bulls and pit mixes. More than 1,000 of them have been euthanized, including 36 of the "Denver 38," a pack of confiscated puppies and dogs that has come to symbolize the fight against breed-specific legislation, or "BSL," nationwide.
"[I] don't live with discrimination," says Fox. "But you have a feeling for it when you own a pit bull."
A difficult sell
She claims that there is nothing inherently violent about the breed, just that it's one in a long line that has included Rottweilers, Dobermans and German shepherds. True, she says, pit bulls have a higher tolerance for pain. And the Humane Society reported 200 pit bull bites in the past year. But the animal is a good learner; you can coax it into gentleness, the same way you can coax it to attack. Fox says she leaves her pit bull, Obsidian, alone with her 5-year-old.
All Breed, along with other local and national organizations, promotes comprehensive dog legislation instead of BSL. Jail time and heavy fines, rather than pet euthanization, might force pet owners into taking responsibility, representatives say.
But Doug Kelley, the director of Denver Animal Control, claims his city's ban has been effective. There has not been a serious attack in Denver since 1990, though the pit bull population may not have actually decreased as much as simply gone underground.
"In doing 20-plus years of this type of work," he says, "I have had many people come to me and say, "Why does a dog have to injure someone before you can do something?'"
Local City Councilor Margaret Radford says Colorado Springs, which recently lifted its potbellied pig ban, has never considered a moratorium on pit bulls and likely won't in the near future. But she does believe that the dogs should be closely monitored; she put her own pit bull to sleep because of its tendency to bite.
The dog's reputation has made it a difficult sell in Colorado Springs. Without extensive kennel space, the Humane Society has had to euthanize 558 pit bulls in 2006 alone. Mateo, too, is up for adoption, since his current caregiver cannot take on a third pet much longer. "He needs his forever home," says foster owner Kristie Young.
Luv-a-Bully March to oppose breed-specific legislation
Starting at Monument Valley Park
Saturday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m.
Contact Traci Green at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not bring dogs.