Jan 5, 2022 - News

Pit bull bites in 2021 outnumber those of any other breed

Denver dog bites by breed and severity in 2021
Data: Denver Animal Protection; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

One year after pit bulls were allowed to strut down Denver sidewalks again, new city data provided to Axios shows the dogs were responsible for more reported bites on people than any other breed in 2021.

Flashback: City voters lifted Denver's pit bull ban in November 2020 after more than 30 years.

  • At the ballot, voters overrode Mayor Michael Hancock's first-ever veto blocking the measure, which had been passed by the Denver City Council.

By the numbers: Denver Animal Protection identified 117 bites in 2021 from pit bull breeds, which include the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier under city ordinance. Of those, 10 bites were reported on young children, agency spokesperson Tammy Vigil tells Axios.

  • By comparison, only 54 bites were reported by Labrador retrievers and 61 by German shepherds.
  • Pit bulls also topped the list for the most multiple-bite injuries, considered Level 5 offenses on the Ian Dunbar Dog Bite Scale, which goes up to Level 6, signifying death. The city reports 3% of pit bull bites in 2021 reached this severity.
  • "Since pit bulls were not legal in Denver until 2021, we're really looking at this data as our baseline and we're not able to extrapolate much about what it means yet," Vigil explains.

State of play: It's unclear how many, if any, dogs have been euthanized in Denver due to a biting-related incident. Vigil tells Axios that dogs are not euthanized solely because a bite is on record, especially when the attack may have been provoked or relatively minor.

  • For all breeds, owners can face criminal summons with a penalty of up to $999 and up to 300 days in jail, and in some situations dogs must be ordered surrendered by the courts.

What they're saying: The proponents for legalization downplayed the numbers and questioned the data collection.

  • "It's not fair to combine three breeds into one dataset" and compare that against a single breed, councilperson Chris Herndon tells Axios. "It's important to ask if this is the most efficient and most transparent way to track the data."

The big picture: Denver Animal Protection recorded 804 animal bites in 2021; 695 were from dogs and 109 were from cats.

  • 13% were bites on kids between ages 1 and 10.

Of note: The Denver Animal Shelter saw 100 pit bulls adopted last year, marking the second-most adopted breed at the shelter behind chihuahuas (115), Labrador retrievers (84), Siberian huskies (83) and German shepherds (55), according to the agency.

Go deeper: Denver's most popular dog breeds in 2021


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