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Pit Bull Ban anniversary draws tearful protest
At least 241 pit bull owners in Denver made a life-or-death decision for their pets during the past year, advocates for the breed said Tuesday night.
Many of the owners made the decision to give them up to the Animal Control Division so the dogs could be euthanized. It was that or pack up their belongings and leave the city with their animals.
That's easier said that done, according to about 80 pit bull owners and advocates for the dogs who held a candlelight vigil outside the Denver Municipal Animal Shelter to protest the first anniversary of the city's resumption of its pit bull ban.
Since the ban was reinstated, 1,056 pit bulls have been euthanized, according to Doug Kelley, director of the city's Animal Control Division. Nearly 1,500 of the breed have been impounded, Kelley said.
Of those euthanized, 241 pit bulls were surrendered to the division by the dogs' owners; 364 pit bulls were seized because the animal division charged their owners with violations and they never retrieved their dogs; and 451 pit bulls were picked up because they were strays.
"Not everyone can pack up and move," said protester Hilary Engel, 31, who moved to Lakewood with her pit bull, Cysco, after the Animal Control Division began enforcing the ban.
Engel recalled that she placed Cysco with an animal rescue group in Teller County for a couple of months until she could be freed from her apartment lease in Denver.
"If I had to live in a cardboard box outside the city limits with my dog I would," Engel said.
When pit bulls are put to sleep, the breed's backers don't call the procedure euthanization.
Several held signs reading: "1,056 dogs have been killed in Denver in the past year because of the way they look."
"Family dogs killed," read another sign.
Others held photos of their pit bulls, including an enlarged picture of a child cuddling her pet.
The division did provide some good news to pit bull advocates. The shelter returned 323 of the dogs to their owners after the animals had been confiscated. That's because the owners moved from Denver or found someone outside the city who would care for the pets. And 68 pit bulls that were brought in because they were strays or because the owners faced criminal charges were transferred to rescue organizations that work closely with the shelter.
The Animal Control Division agreed to suspend its enforcement of the ban in 2004 after Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill that restricted local governments from outlawing certain breeds of dogs. Denver sued the state, arguing that it was violating the city's home-rule authority.
Kacey Kessell, 26, is a volunteer at the animal shelter, where she cares for the animals, including pit bulls. On Tuesday night, Kessell joined the vigil.
"I've seen all those animals. And they have families, and they have names," she said tearfully.