Slye the pit bull

Slye, a 2-year-old pit bull-boxer mix from Texas, enjoys her first Colorado snow on Nov. 26, 2019, in Arvada.

Most people who know me in political circles know my good pal Peter Marcus. He and I were the first writers at Colorado Politics with Dan Njegomir. To know Pete is to know Slye, a dog with an unusually good personality, especially if you know her story.

The pit bull-boxer mix was salvaged from doggie death row in a Texas shelter. She was brought to Colorado and eventually to Pete by the All Aboard Animal Rescue in Fort Collins.

Two years old, Slye is no bark and no bite. She’s all love, all the time. She flops on her back and wiggles her butt to be petted.

All anybody in the world really needs is one good friend, and you won’t do better than a good dog. I have two cats, but I have issues.

Some respect and dignity isn’t too much to ask for a warm-blooded being who accept us as we are. For Slye, that means the good fortune of living in Jefferson County, where all dogs are good dogs until they prove they are not.

That’s a lot of what’s going on at Denver City Hall, as the City Council takes a rational look at its laws regarding pit bulls, maligned by horrors that captured the media's attention.

Councilman Chris Herndon has proposed a provisional license for pit bulls. If the dog doesn't cause any problems for three years, then it can graduate to a regular dog license in Denver. 

“It is a myth that pit bulls bite more often. It is a myth that pit bulls have physical differences that make them more dangerous,” Randa MacMillan, a veterinarian in Littleton, said at a City Council workshop on Jan. 22, my colleague Alayna Alvarez reported.

RELATED: Denver's proposal to allow pit bulls in the city is moving forward

“Pit bulls are not de facto aggressive animals.”

The City Council said no more to pit bulls in May 1989, on a 9-2 vote, just two months after the Rev. Wilbur Billingsley, a 59-year-old evangelical pastor, was mauled by a pit bull in the alley near his home in the San Rafael neighborhood, on the way to the grocery store to pick up a few things for his wife. The dog’s owner said it had never been aggressive before, feeding the narrative of a time bomb with a cold nose.

The pastor was bitten more than 70 times and left with two broken legs, after it took a shotgun blast to dislodge the dog named Tate. The owner, a 25-year-old cook, was sentenced to 400 hours of community service.

The Denver police told the City Council there had been 81 bites by pit bulls in 1988, with 35 more in the first four months of 1985, Westword reported on the 20th anniversary of the pit bull ban in 2009.

Faced with a decision, city leaders freshly recalled Fernando Salazar. The 3-year-old in southwest Denver was mauled to death by a pit bull still chained up in a carport. The neighbor watched a football game unaware of the mayhem outside his door in October 1986. His wife found the child's ravaged body.

A neighbor, Jackie Vigil, said older children knew to walk on the other side of the street to stay away from the mean dogs at that home. "Everybody does in this block," she told a reporter at the time.

The ferocity of these powerful canines is as terrifying as it is devastating, no question, but the reputation eclipses the breed.

Last June the American Animal Hospital Association publicized a study by Ohio State University that found pit bulls, in their varieties, were the responsible for the most bites of any breed, 22.5%. Mixed breeds account for 21.2%, and German shepherds came in at 17.8%.

Those are narrow margins to justify a complete ban on one and leniency for all others. 

"[O]ther studies show that in most dog bite cases, the kid started it," the Animal Hospital Association observed.

Pit bulls are taking the fall for an epidemic of bites.

The U.S. Postal Service says Denver is one of the worst cities in the country for dog bites. In 2017 and 2018, dogs of all stripes chomped on 73 letter carriers, and there were 269 dog attacks on postal workers statewide during the two-year span.

“Any dog can bite and all attacks are preventable through responsible pet ownership,” Denver Postmaster Lora McLucas said in a public plea last summer.

Efforts on dogs don't stop at the City and County Building.

This legislative session, state lawmakers have key bills aimed at animal welfare. I was lucky enough to sit in on the first meeting of the Colorado Legislative Animal Welfare Caucus.

One bill would make it OK to take a dog to a restaurant patio, as long as it doesn't eat off the table or wander inside.

State Sen. Mike Foote, a prosecutor from Boulder County, has legislation he's thinks will have a long reach. He and Rep. Monica Duran, a fellow Democrat from Wheat Ridge, are sponsoring House Bill 1084 to clamp down on puppy and kitten mills, a trade that puts profits above lives of pets.

The first gentleman, Marlon Reis, made the case to the richly bipartisan CLAW Caucus to "give our furry family members the dignity they deserve."

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