Denver: Selective Counting and the Cost to Dogs and People

PIt bull in shelterby Karen Delise (reprinted with permission)

In 1989, the City of Denver defined what a "pit bull" is-and then passed an ordinance banning this type of dog. The City claimed that pit bulls were different from other dogs, that they posed a greater danger than other dogs, and that they inflicted injuries different from the injuries that a person might suffer from another dog.

Since the law’s enactment, despite legal challenges supported by reams of testimony from animal experts, Denver has steadfastly maintained that their ban advances community safety and is an effective solution to reducing dog attacks.

Is this true?  Has banning the dogs defined by the ordinance reduced the number of dog bites, or averted severe dog attacks?   Has the ban eliminated dog bite-related fatalities in Denver?

The answer to all these questions is:  NO.

Reported Number of Dog Bites:

Official records from health departments and animal control agencies across the country show that the number of dog bites have plummeted to historic lows, despite the significant increase in both the human and dog population. Virtually all areas of the nation have recorded dramatic reductions in the number of annually reported dog bites over the past 35+ years (1971-2007).  For example:

  • Minneapolis shows an 86% reduction in reported dog bites, from 1,692 to 239.
  • New York City has a 90% reduction in reported dog bites, from 37,488 to 3,776.
  • Baltimore has seen a 91% reduction in reported dog bites, from 6,809 to 593.

Consistent with this trend, Denver has realized an 85% decrease in reported dog bites:  from 3,361 in 1971 to 493 in 2006.  However, Minneapolis, New York, Baltimore and other cities enjoy similar reductions in reported dog bites by managing the interaction between people and dogs with breed-neutral regulation.

There is no evidence that cities or counties that have enacted breed bans or restrictions have had a greater reduction in the number of reported bites when compared to cities or counties without breed bans/restrictions.

What about serious dog bites?

Over the past four decades, only a small number (5-10%) of all reported dog bites are classified as serious (i.e., requiring suturing, surgery or hospitalization).  This has been a consistent result; regardless of the geographic area and regardless of whether that area has enacted or attempted to enforce breed specific laws.

Prior to Denver’s ban on pit bulls, there was a highly publicized case in which two dogs*, (neither of which was identified as a pit bull or pit bull-type dog) attacked a Colorado boy, injuring him so severely that doctors needed thousands of stitches to repair his life-threatening wounds.  Denver either failed to notice, or assigned less significance to the extent of the injuries inflicted in this incident.

From 1994 to 1999, 39 children were admitted to a single Denver hospital (Children’s Pediatric) for injuries associated with dog bites.  Of the 39 admissions, eight of the children had life-threatening injuries and one child died from his injuries.  Of these 38 incidents (excluding the fatality), 82% were not reported in the media at all.  Nor have Denver officials ever discussed – correctly, in our opinion – banning the breeds/types of dogs that were alleged to be involved in the 38 cases.  Nor did they consider banning the breed/type of dog involved in the 1998 fatality.

In fact, Denver authorities continue to dedicate public resources to enforcing the ban and defending it from legal challenge, while citizens continue to suffer the same type of dog attacks as they did prior to the ban.


Dog bite-related fatalities have always been vanishingly rare.

In 1986, Denver and Portland, Oregon, cities of approximately the same population, each had a human fatality from an attack by a dog identified as a pit bull.

Later that year, 1986, Portland, Oregon enacted its Potentially Dangerous Dog Ordinance.  This ordinance allows Portland Animal Control to identify a dog as dangerous according to its behavior.  Happily, Portland has not had any additional human fatalities from dogs of any breed or type since 1986.

Denver enacted its breed ban in 1989.  Nine years later, in 1998, a Denver child succumbed to injuries inflicted by a dog identified as other than a pit bull.

It is no surprise that Denver has not seen any appreciable difference in the number or severity of dog attacks compared to cities without breed bans.  Breed bans endorse the profoundly mistaken notion that the breed of dog is the driving force behind an attack.  Attempting to identify the breed of dog involved in an attack and then "classifying" the incident to be a result of a breed-specific behavior will never prevent dog attacks.  It offers no useful information.  We need to hold dog owners responsible for humanely controlling their dogs, and we need to educate parents/dog owners about dog safety, and the importance of supervising their young children when interacting with dogs.

What has Denver accomplished with its breed ban?

Nineteen years later, Denver’s Animal Care and Control continues to confiscate and kill dogs identified as pit bulls, most of whom were family companions residing peacefully in their homes.

From 2005 to 2007, Denver killed 1,667 pit bull-looking dogs.

A Time for Change:

The City of Denver continues to squander public resources defending its breed ban against legal challenges filed on behalf of the City’s responsible dog owners.  Denver Animal Care & Control finally allowed a pit bull dog named Forrest to be spared a lethal injection and be transported to another jurisdiction.

Dogs contribute much to our lives.  To reduce the incidence of dog bites and attacks, beyond their already historically low levels, it is vital that we avoid reactive, uniformed policies, and make a serious effort to understand human and canine interactions.

* Interestingly, one of two breeds of dogs involved in this attack is of the same breed as that owned by Kory Nelson, Denver’s most radical and outspoken proponent of the city’s pit bull ban.


The Pit Bull PlaceboKaren Delise is the Founder and Director of Research for the National Canine Research Council and the author of "The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression" (Anubis Publishing),  She can be reached at

(No part of this article may be reprinted on other websites or off-line publications without the express permission of the author.)


3 thoughts on “Denver: Selective Counting and the Cost to Dogs and People”

  1. Im Gema Martinez (Kane’s)Mom, An American Staffordshire Terrier

    Kane & Forrest were the first and maybe the only two Pitbulls that were saved from Denver’s Municipal Shelter, they were going to Execute these Beautiful Good Dogs, Thanks to ROVERlution, they are now In California with Chef David, a wonderful man who drove to Denver to pick up Kane & Forrest, the horrible pain i had to endure, when the Police and Animal Control came to my home and forcefully took my Baby, at Gunpoint, just to Execute him, For nothing he didn’t even do anything wrong, never aggressive, not even stray, This has gone to far and needs to stop, Punish bad owners and abusers, by all means. Please sign the Pettition
    You can see videos of Kane and Forrest and on just type in dazidog on utube. Thanks all STOP BSL

  2. Pit Bulls are no different from any other dogs out here, If they are trained by responsible owners they are the best dogs around, They know how to show lots of love and caring for there owners. I have owned several breeds of dogs and i love the bully breed, they’re the best. All this crap talking about how bad the Pit Bull is, i don’t hear anyone talking about putting the owner out of his misery and they don’t do any heavy jail time, it’s the breed that has to pay for a bad owner and putting the real good pit bulls down is not going to solve the problem, I think all these states are crazy, once you take out all pit bulls another breed will take it’s place, what are these states going to do? Takes our right away from owning any breeds of dogs. We as humans and americans have no rights anymore. The government is taking all our rights away and it’s not far. We pay taxes and can’t live or own what we want and this is stupid….. Save Our Pit Bulls and Say No To BSL….

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