Efforts to Repeal Denver's Pit Bull Ban in February 2020

On February 10, 2020, the Denver City Council shall consider whether to adopt Councilmember Chris Herndon's resolution to end the city’s decades-long pit bull ownership ban and replace it with a licensing system that would allow pit bulls back into the city. Under a law enacted in August 1989, pit bulls have been banned in the city and county of Denver. (See Denver councilman proposes ending decades-long pit bull ban, https://bit.ly/3blTQEk.) Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law, provided the City Council with 10 reasons to keep the pit bull ban:

Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips' letter to the City Council (February 7, 2020)

Dear Members of the City Council -

I write for the purpose of acquainting you with the reasons why you should not change section 8-67 of the Denver Code of Ordinances and should not adopt the licensing system proposed by Councilmember Chris Herndon. 

Since you are hearing strident opinions from both sides of this issue, I would like you to understand why an attorney like me, from law offices in California, wants to provide you with information in the first place. Briefly, I am the only lawyer in the United States whose entire law practice, since the 1990's, has been devoted to representing the families of people killed by dogs, and victims who were disabled or disfigured in dog attacks. I have handled or reviewed thousands of dog attacks, including many in the State of Colorado. Clearly, I have exceptional expertise in dog bite law, and have derived a great deal of income from pit bull attacks -- and therefore it is against my personal interests to provide you with this information. 

Nevertheless, I do so because I have sat with the victims and have looked into the faces of the dead, as they have appeared in autopsy photographs, and have watched them die on police videos, and these experiences as well as my decades of research compel me to tell you the following:

Pit bulls bite more humans than other breeds

From February 2013 to present, animal control agencies and health departments in 19 U.S. states report that pit bulls are leading all breeds in biting incidents. The studies are summarized and linked at Dogsbite.org, Pit Bulls Lead "Bite" Counts Across U.S. Cities and Countieshttp://blog.dogsbite.org/2009/07/pit-bulls-lead-bite-counts-across-us.html.

In the 10 years from 2009 to 2018, pit bulls killed or maimed 3,569 people in the USA and Canada. (Merritt Clifton, Dog Attack Deaths & Maimings, U.S. & Canada, 1982-2018 Log.) They killed over 80% of all Americans who are killed by dogs. (Colleen Lynn, 2015 U.S. Dog Bite Fatalities, at http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2015.php.) 

In the 13-year period from 2005 to 2017, pit bulls killed 283 Americans. (Colleen Lynn, 12-Year U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Chart and Colleen Lynn, 2017 U.S. Dog Bite Fatalities.) 

Pit bull bites are more deadly than those of other breeds

From 2011 to 2019, 14 peer-reviewed retrospective medical studies from Level 1 trauma centers spanning all major geographical regions in the United States -- Northeast, Southeast, South, Southwest, Midwest, West Coast and Northwest -- all report similar findings: pit bulls are inflicting a higher prevalence of injuries than all other breeds of dogs. The majority of these studies (12 of 14) also report that pit bulls are inflicting the most severe injuries, requiring a higher number of operative interventions -- up to five times higher -- than other dog breeds. Four studies from this period -- all from Level 1 trauma centers in the Denver metro area -- show a mixture of results, possibly due to Denver and the surrounding metropolitan regions enforcing pit bull bans for the last 3 decades. (See compilation of studies with citations by Lynn, Colleen, Level 1 Trauma Center Studies, https://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-studies-level-1-trauma-table-2011-present.php.)

Studies by health care providers establish that pit bull attacks are associated with higher median Injury Severity Scale scores, a higher number of hospital admissions, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death. (Bini, John K. MD; Cohn, Stephen M. MD; Acosta, Shirley M. RN, BSN; McFarland, Marilyn J. RN, MS; Muir, Mark T. MD; Michalek, Joel E. PhD, Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs, Annals of Surgery: April 2011, vol. 253, iss. 4, pp. 791–797, cited at http://journals.lww.com/annalsofsurgery/Abstract/2011/04000/Mortality,_Mauling,_and_Maiming_by_Vicious_Dogs.23.aspx.) 

Another study authored entirely by physicians concludes that injuries from pit bulls are both more frequent and more severe. (Essig Jr., Garth F., et al., Dog Bite Injuries to the Face: Is There Risk with Breed Ownership? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis, Int. J. of Ped. Otorhinolaryngology 117 (2019) 192-188; accessed 3/25/2019 at https://bit.ly/2HShg80.)

Similarly, an additional study found that pit bulls inflict "more complex wounds, were often unprovoked, and went off property to attack" and that "[t]he probability of a bite resulting in a complex wound was 4.4 times higher for pit bulls compared with the other top-biting breeds." (Khan K, Horswell B and Samanta D, Dog-Bite Injuries to the Craniofacial Region: An Epidemiologic and Pattern-of-Injury Review at a Level 1 Trauma Center, J Oral Maxillofac Surg, November 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31816277.)

Pit bull owners are more likely to be irresponsible

In nearly all of the cases in which I have been consulted, where a pit bull killed a person the pit bull owners had no insurance and therefore the victim's family received no justice in the form of compensation.

Published, peer-reviewed studies in authoritative journals of psychology and forensic science establish that pit bulls owners as a whole -- statistically -- are more likely to be socially deviant, engage in crimes involving children, domestic violence, alcohol abuse and violent crimes against other persons. (Jaclyn E. Barnes, Barbara W. Boat, Frank W. Putnam, Harold F. Dates, and Andrew R. Mahlman, Ownership of High-Risk ("Vicious") Dogs As a Marker for Deviant Behaviors, J. Interpersonal Violence, Volume 21 Number 12, December 2006 1616-1634, abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17065657; Laurie Ragatz M.A., William Fremouw Ph.D., Tracy Thomas M.A., Katrina McCoy B.S., Vicious Dogs: The Antisocial Behaviors and Psychological Characteristics of Owners, Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 699–703, May 2009, abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2009.01001.x/abstract; Allison M. Schenk, B.A.; Laurie L. Ragatz, M.S.; and William J. Fremouw, Ph.D, A.B.P.P., Vicious Dogs Part 2: Criminal Thinking, Callousness, and Personality Styles of Their Owners, J Forensic Sci, January 2012, Vol. 57, No. 1, doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.01961.x, available online at: onlinelibrary.wiley.com.)

One example is Laquandra Kinchen Ligons, who in 2014 stabbed to death a neighbor who poked Ligons' pit bull with a metal rod to protect the victim's cats. (Pablo Lopez for The Fresno Bee, Fresno woman sentenced to 12 years for killing woman in dispute over pets, http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/crime/article19643112.html#storylink=cpy.) Another example is Matthew Thomas Oropeza, who killed a man because the latter asked Oropeza to put a leash on his pit bull. (See the article in the Inquirer at Philly.com.)

Pit bulls kill their owners and the owners' family members or visiting babies more than half the time

In the years 2016 through 2019, pit bulls killed 110 Americans, and 57 of those 110 victims were either the owner of the pit bull or a member of the owner's family. (See below.)

In 2016, of the 31 Americans killed by dogs, 23 were killed by pitbulls and their mixes, and 12 of those 23 victims were either the owner of the pit bull or a member of the owner's family. (See details given by Colleen Lynn, http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2016.php.) 

In 2017, of the 39 Americans killed by dogs, 29 were killed by pitbulls and their mixes, and 18 of those 29 victims were either the owner of the pit bull or a member of the owner's family (including a relative). (See Colleen Lynn, https://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2017.php.)

In 2018, of the 34 Americans killed by dogs, 25 were killed pit bulls and their mixes, and 14 of those 25 victims were their owner, the owner's family member, or babies that the pit bull owners were watching. (Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2018, https://bit.ly/2Wubi1j.)

In 2019, pit bulls killed their owners and the owners' family members 40% of the time. That year, of the 48 Americans were killed by dogs, 33 were killed by pit bulls and their mixes, and 13 of the 33 victims were their owner or the owner's family member. In one additional case, the victim was a visiting baby. (Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2019, https://bit.ly/2S5zcko.)

Pit bulls also have been known to eat their owners. In 2019, when the police went in search for Freddie Mack (57, Johnson County, TX), they could not find him, but they found bits of his bones and clothes in the excrement of his 15 pit bulls. (Sheriff: Missing North Texas man was eaten by his own dogs, Fox4News.com, July 10, 2019, https://bit.ly/2YR4BrD.) In 2017, when police looking for Bethany Stephens (22, Goochland County, VA) found her two pit bulls eating her rib cage. (Goochland County Sheriff James Agnew, press conference, Dec. 18, 2017)

Common sense leads to the conclusion that pit bulls attack their owners and their owners' family members and visiting babies -- injuring them but not killing them -- in the same proportions. 

Females are the most frequent victims in fatal pit bull attacks

In 2018, 28 American females were killed by dogs, and 19 of the killings were by pit bulls. (Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2018, https://bit.ly/2Wubi1j.)

In 2019, 26 American females were killed by dogs, and 16 of the 26 were killed by pit bulls. (Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2019, https://bit.ly/2S5zcko.) 

Pit bulls kill more children than any other breed of dog

In 2017, dogs killed 15 children out of the 39 total human fatalities. Pit bulls kllled 8 of the 15 youths. (See Colleen Lynn, https://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2017.php.)

In 2018, dogs again killed 15 children, and pit bulls killed at least 9 of those 15 ("at least" because the authorities have concealed the breed of one of the dogs that killed a child.) (See Colleen Lynn, 2018 Dog Bite Fatalities and Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2018, https://bit.ly/2Wubi1j.) 

In 2019, dogs killed 16 children, and pit bulls killed 10 of the 16. (Phillips, Kenneth, Pit Bull Killings - 2019, https://bit.ly/2S5zcko.) 

Pit bulls are the No. 1 canine killers of other people's pets and animals

In 2017, pit bulls killed 13,000 dogs, 5,000 cats and 20,000 horses and other farm animals. (See Merritt Clifton, 'Pit Bull Roulette' killed 38,000 other animals in 2017.) Having destroyed more than 90% of other animals killed by dogs, the breed became the number one killer of other people's pets, horses and farm animals. 

In 2019, pit bulls accounted for 91% of all reported fatal attacks on other animals, 91% of all fatal attacks on other dogs, 76% of all fatal dog attacks on cats, and 82% of all fatal dog attacks on other pets, poultry and hoofed species. (Clifton, Merritt, Record Pit Bull Attacks on Other Animals in 2019, https://www.animals24-7.org/2020/01/13/record-pit-bull-attacks-on-other-animals-in-2019-pro-football/.)

Pit bulls engage in home invasions more often than any other dog

Approximately once per month during 2015, 2016 and 2017, a pit bull has entered the home of a person not its owner for the purpose of killing or injuring people or pets. In addition to homes, the invaded premises have included apartments, schools and even a police station. There were 16 such incidents in 2015, 17 in 2016, and 11 in 2017, with the first recorded one in 1912. (See Safety Before Pit Bulldogs, Extreme Attacks: List of Invasion Attacks by Pit Bulls, at http://safetybeforebulldogs.blogspot.com/2014/03/collection-of-home-invasion-pit-bull.html.) 

Pit bull attacks (deaths and disfigurements) are on the rise

Fatal and disfiguring attacks by pit bulls have risen 830% since 2007. (Merritt Clifton, Record 33 fatal pit bull attacks & 459 disfigurements in 2015, at http://www.animals24-7.org/2016/01/04/record-33-fatal-pit-bull-attacks-459-disfigurements-in-2015/)

Repealing their pit bull ban was a disaster for Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown banned pit bulls from 2007 to 2015,  but repealed the ban in November 2015 under activist pressure. At least two disfiguring pit bull attacks on humans occurred in Youngstown since then, while a pit bull influx has overwhelmed the Mahoning County dog pound, which serves Youngstown. “Currently, 98% of the dogs at the Mahoning County dog pound fall under pit bull breeds,” reported Molly Reed of WKBN earlier in 2018. (Clifton, Merritt, “Educate yourself”: pit bulls in schools run amok, https://www.animals24-7.org/2018/12/16/educate-yourself-pit-bulls-in-schools-run-amok/.)

In conclusion, if your duties as lawmakers include the obligation to promote the safety and well-being of the residents of Denver, the true facts about the savagery of pit bulls, related to you by someone whose financial interests are not served by giving you this information, make it clear that  you should not change section 8-67 of the Denver Code of Ordinances and should not adopt the licensing system proposed by Councilmember Chris Herndon. 

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Kindest regards,

Kenneth M. Phillips
Attorney at Law