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Bitch Noone Wanted
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More innocent dogs targeted?
Judge rules that city mislabeled another innocent dog as a pit bull
Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Denver animal control officers mislabeled another dog as a pit bull, raising additional questions over the department's credibility when handling the lives of both the dogs themselves and the families they come from.

An administrative-law judge this month ruled that animal control officers mislabeled a 10-month-old boxer-mix puppy as a pit bull.

Despite being identified by three independent animal control officers as being a pit bull, the administrative-law judge heard testimony from experts stating otherwise, and ruled that the animal control officers had mislabeled the dog.

In Denver, where pit bulls are illegal, mislabeling a dog as a member of the targeted breed can mean death for the dog, or at the very least being banned from the city.

The incident unraveled on Jan. 3 when Mufasia, the boxer-mix, escaped from his owners' yard on South Sheridan in south Denver. Mufasia ended up at a nearby school playground where he was playing with children.

Animal control officers were called about the loose dog, and he was impounded.

Mufasia was not wearing tags, but his owners, Amee Blauwkamp and Robert Atencio, started calling around to local shelters. None of the shelters seemed to have him, not even the Denver Animal Shelter on Jason Street.

But to their surprise, when a relative went down to the shelter, Mufasia was in fact there.

In the 48 hours while Mufasia was at the shelter, he was identified as a pit bull, despite the owners pointing out that when he received his vaccinations, the dog was never identified as a pit bull. Both Blauwkamp and Atencio say they wouldn't have adopted the dog had it been a pit bull, well aware that the breed is banned in Denver.

But animal control officials maintained that Mufasia was a pit bull. The owners had two choices: let animal control officers kill the dog, or release him to a friend outside the city. They chose the latter.

Blauwkamp says she asked animal control officers what her options were, but was never told that there was an appeals process. She found that out after contacting the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center, who ended up representing Blauwkamp and Atencio during the appeals process.

During the Feb. 2 hearing, testimony was presented by two experts, an American Kennel Club judge and a United Kennel Club judge, who both agreed that Mufasia was not a pit bull. The judge agreed that there was not conclusive evidence suggesting that the dog was a pit bull.

Blauwkamp and Atencio learned on Friday of the ruling, and Mufasia is now back home in Denver.

The incident mirrors a situation in 2009 when Denver animal control officers misidentified another boxer-mix, Dexter, as a pit bull, according to the ruling in that case.

Such misidentifications raise concerns over whether innocent dogs are being killed or banned in Denver.

"Time and time again we have seen that the city relies on poorly trained employees to determine which dogs in their possession are pit bulls," said Jennifer Edwards, an attorney with the Animal Law Center who represented Blauwkamp and Atencio. "Their inability to single out pit bulls from other breeds has meant a death sentence for thousands of dogs in the years that the city's pit bull ban has been in place."

Denver's ban on pit bulls has existed since 1989. Enforcement took a brief pause while the ban was challenged in the courts, but enforcement kicked up again in 2004.

Doug Kelley, director of animal control, defended his department yesterday, adding that there was not a ruling on the absolute identity of the dog. He said the system is working because an appeals process does exist.

"This is proving that the process works," he said. "They had the opportunity to come in and testify based on what the background of the dog was, and to provide testimony as to the situation with the dog Ń that's what the hearing officer is there for."

Kelley also denies that his animal control officers are not qualified to identify a dog.

"I'm confident in the fact that our folks are trained to recognize the breed," he said.

Meanwhile, Blauwkamp and Atencio are in the process of securing their backyard so that Mufasia can't escape again. They say they are relieved he is back home with them.

"I think he was more happy than we were," joked Blauwkamp.

Denver Daily - More innocent dogs targeted?
 
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