City reports fewer bites, licenses for restricted dogs since dog breed ban
AURORA | More than two years after the city implemented a controversial pit bull ban, there are fewer of the restricted animals taking up space in local kennels and fewer bites from the barred breeds being reported.
The controversy that's swirled around the measure, however, hasn't diminished a bit.
While city staff is touting a decrease in bites to people from restricted breeds and a dip in the number of the animals being impound, critics of the two-year old ordinance are pointing to inherent flaws in the city's methods and inconsistencies in their numbers.
"We believe that this has been an effective ordinance. We're pleased with that. It was highly controversial," said Nancy Sheffield, director of neighborhood services. "I am reasonably certain that people who may have had restricted breeds of dogs in the past ... have decided that they would no longer keep such a dog in the city or have moved out of the city."
City staff and council members point to a report dated June 6 circulated to the city's Code Enforcement committee as signs of the legislation's success. The numbers show that the frequency and severity of dog bites reported in Aurora from restricted breeds has diminished during the past two years, while impounded restricted dogs are taking up less space in city kennels and shelters. The restricted breeds include American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American bull dogs, Canary dogs, presa mallorquins and other breeds with similar physical characteristics.
The report shows that the percentage of reported bites to humans by restricted breeds took a dramatic dip after the ban took effect, with only 6 percent of reported bites coming from restricted breeds in 2006, while they accounted for 7 percent in 2007.
City staff compiled the data, which also includes statistics about the severity of dog bites, following a full review of the legislation before city council in February and concerns that the number of bites were increasing.
Staff countered by pointing to the city's new methods of tracking bites, which now includes dog-on-dog bites, and counts victims rather than incidents. Considering this new method, they say, the numbers have gone down.
"It used to be that we did not track bites to other animals, but strictly to humans," Sheffield said. "We've also changed that tracking, where we track each victim. If it's two people, it's two bites."
Even before the new data emerged, the majority of the city council supported the ban.
"I think that the political reality is that a majority of the city council today supports that ordinance and wants to keep it in place," said committee chair and Councilman Larry Beer. "We've been looking at this now since February in terms of the three-year review. Nobody has indicated that they wanted to really take a look at specific aspects of that law."
Still, critics of the original law have not been allayed by the new numbers. Glen Bui, spokesman for the American Canine Foundation, said the new data is skewed and does not address the underlying problem. In August, two claims protesting the current ban by the ACF and Florence Vianzon will be heard in federal court.
"The Code Enforcement report on the severity of dog bites has been fabricated to mislead the public. They completely disregarded the cost for impound fees; therefore their report, when it addresses the cost of addressing the breed ban, is incomplete," Bui said. "They haven't collected all those fines. The impound fees are hundreds of thousands of dollars. They're completely leaving that out."
The data also cites the court costs associated with prosecuting restricted breed cases. According to the report, the 400 restricted breed court cases in 2007 totaled more than $31,000. The fee was offset by a reported revenue of $10,000 to $14,000 in court fees.
The associated day-to-day costs of the ban, which include the price of animal care and added officers, have been covered in part by the $218 fee attached to a restricted breed license.
"We've definitely been able to administer the program without using general fund dollars," Beer said. "In fact, it's been so successful from the financial respect, I think it's time to start asking the question have we accumulated more of a fund balance than we need."
The new data addresses the presence of restricted breeds in the city's kennels, pointing to a diminished presence in the city's facilities. Before 2006, Sheffield said, the city's animal shelters devoted up to 50 percent of their capacity to housing and caring for pit bull terriers, staffordshire terriers and other breeds that would be restricted under the ban.
The number has since diminished. In 2006, the city reported 758 restricted breed impoundments, a number that shrunk to 269 in 2007, a decrease of 65 percent.
"We were spending a lot of time and a lot of care in the restricted breeds in the shelter prior to the ordinance," Sheffield said. "I would say a good average would be approximately 10 percent of our kennel space has restricted breeds in it."
But Bui said that the lower kennel numbers represented more of a consequence of extermination than a solution to the problem. The ban, he said, encourages a flawed solution to restricted dog breed attacks.
"It's extermination of a species ... There's nowhere in the country where anyone has any accurate proof that breed bans actually protect the public," Bui said. "You cannot cull or exterminate something of that nature because it's a reproductive species and no matter what you do, it's going to keep breeding. People love them like their children ... What laws work are the laws that target negligent owners. This is about public safety - let's get rid of the real problem. That's the owner. That's all we're advocating for is responsible dog owners."
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Bless the Bullys