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AKC and Dog Owners Win Ruling Granting a Trial to Challenge Constitutionality of Denver Breed Ban

(Thursday, May 28, 2009)

The American Kennel Club® is pleased to announce that United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has ruled in favor of plaintiffs Sonya Dias, Hillary Engel, and Sheryl White in their appeal challenging the constitutionality of the Denver breed ban. This ruling reverses the United States District Court of Colorado’s 2007 dismissal of the suit.

The Denver ordinance bans ownership or possession of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier and/or any dog with a majority of physical traits of one or more of these breeds within the City and County of Denver. Since 2005, as a result of this ordinance, more than 1,000 dogs within the city limits have been euthanized.

In July 2008, the AKC® joined Karen R. Breslin of the Progressive Law Center, LLC of Lakewood, Colorado, and retained the Washington D.C. office of Kaye Scholer LLP to represent dog-owning plaintiffs Dias, Engel and White in their appeal in which they asserted that the Denver ordinance banning pit bulls within the city limits is unconstitutional. The original lawsuit stated the owners were forced to move out of Denver with their dogs because of the ban which they asserted was a violation of, among other things, their constitutional rights.

"The AKC has always opposed breed bans on the basis that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners. We support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs," said Margaret Poindexter, General Counsel for the AKC. "We also have serious concerns about AKC breed standards being used by law enforcement to identify dangerous dogs. Breed standards are intended to serve as the written ideal of a dog which breeders can aspire to, not a benchmark for defining dangerous dogs."

In fact, the Tenth Circuit Court’s decision quotes the AKC breed standard for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier: "with its affections for its friends, and children in particular, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, [the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is] a foremost all-purpose dog."

The AKC supports laws that: establish a fair process by which specific dogs are identified as "dangerous" based on stated, measurable actions; impose appropriate penalties on irresponsible owners; and establish a well-defined method for dealing with dogs proven to be dangerous. If necessary, dogs proven to be "dangerous" may need to be humanely destroyed but the AKC strongly opposes any legislation that determines a dog to be "dangerous" based on specific breeds or phenotypic classes of dogs.