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Johnson: The trouble with fear-based dog bans
February 1, 2006
Maybe Cindi Gilhousen can move to Parker. Folks there, you see, seem to not only have common sense but also a fair bit of compassion.
I missed the story when it first appeared. Perhaps I was out of town. Yet I would have been all over Parker had the vote gone the other way.
And I will say this here: I have no great love of pit bulls. No, I simply cannot stand fear-based ignorance, which isn't a commodity in short supply these days.
Pit bull bans are silly on their face. They criminalize an animal that has done absolutely nothing except get born. Denver has killed some 300 of them over the past year.
Worse, such laws serve to rip apart the dog's owners' hearts and, more and more, their relationships, home life and families.
So the town council of Parker got it exactly right on Jan. 17 when it refused to succumb to the rampant hysteria about pit bulls, and unanimously trashed a proposal to ban the breed inside the town limits.
"What has come to light," said Councilman Jack Hilbert, who had initially sponsored the ordinance, "is that there are other breeds just as dangerous, so we need an ordinance that addresses all dogs."
Someone steady me. Did I just hear a politician refuse to cave in to unjustified fear, a politician who actually did his homework, learned from it and - heaven help us! - is man enough to admit he was wrong?
Perhaps there is, indeed, hope.
And what, you ask, does any of this have to do with Cindi Gilhousen?
Some of you may remember the Commerce City woman. I have written here a couple of times of her struggle to keep her son Jeremy's pit bull, Hoss, from the executioner's needle, at least until he returns home with his Marine company from Iraq.
Readers responded by giving the woman money to construct the concrete and chain-link dog run required by the newly passed Commerce City ban on pit bulls. A half-dozen contractors and others even offered to build it for free.
She registered Hoss with the city and bought the muzzle that the law required, had an identification chip implanted, posted signs on the property and purchased double the required liability insurance - all of which is mandated by the new law.
Cindi Gilhousen has no money, but she worked her backside off to save her son's dog.
"He's over there fighting for me," she explained at the time, "and the least I can do is fight here for him."
She called the other day. She was sobbing.
The landlord had called. The $200,000 liability she had purchased wasn't good enough. She would have to obtain a $1 million policy. Or move.
"He was afraid because of the hysteria here and in Aurora, that if Hoss ever did anything and someone sued, and my policy wouldn't cover it all, they would go after him and he might lose his company," she said.
He gave her 48 hours to either get rid of the dog or move.
The landlord has not returned my calls.
So Hoss now lives at the American Dog School at 74th Avenue and Washington Street. He has been there for more than a week now, and only the money readers donated allows her to board him there.
She told me to tell you, well, thank you.
The landlord will not sign the permit to build the chain-link run until she gets the million-dollar policy, a policy amount she cannot afford. So he has given her two months to buy the policy or vacate his property.
Reader money allowed her to have Hoss temperament-tested and put through obedience school, both of which she says he passed easily.
"What more can I do to prove he is not aggressive?" Cindi Gilhousen protests.
She invited the landlord to come visit with Hoss. He did not, she said.
Of Hoss, she says: "He wants to come home. He wags his tail when we arrive, and wants to go bye-bye. It breaks my heart."
It is why she has not visited the dog in days.
"It hurts. It makes me sick to my stomach to watch the kids drag him back to the kennel, to hear him whimper when we walk away."
So she and her husband, Brad, are looking for a new home. The city says that Hoss will be grandfathered in as a previously registered dog if they find a new place in Commerce City. But they do not know if they want to stay.
The local weekly has published the addresses of all pit bull owners in the paper, including theirs. People have made threats, she said.
"We're pit bull owners. We're garbage here. I don't know if I want to go through this again," Cindi Gilhousen said.
Her son, she said, knows nothing of what has happened. She has refused to tell him, explaining he has enough to worry about.
"How would I tell him I had to get rid of his dog because of people who have never met Hoss?" she said.
It would be different if Hoss were a bad dog. She has five other children. Would she allow them to be around him if he was a risk?
So she will keep the dog at the kennel.
Jeremy has told her that he will be home within a month.
"I'm certainly not giving up until then," Cindi Gilhousen said. "If I have to, I'll send Hoss to relatives who live out of state.
"Jeremy, I think, would understand. I just feel bad because I couldn't even guarantee the safety of his dog."
This is, if you haven't figured it out yet, everything that is wrong with shortsighted, hysterically stupid laws.
Bill Johnson's column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Call him at 303-892-2763 or e-mail him at johnsonw@RockyMountainNews.com.
Please thank him if you have a chance!