Monday, August 30, 2010

Soldier's unwelcome pit bull not an uncommon story

August 30, 2010 5:00 AM

Axel the puppy is a lot of things to his owner, Spc. Joshua Brown.

The 10-week-old Labrador mix is a source of comfort and companionship, a needed boost after a draining year in Iraq, and a potential guardian for Brown’s wife when the soldier leaves on a new deployment next year.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Axel is also half pit bull, and that’s enough to make him unwanted at Grand View Apartments in Colorado Springs, where managers have told the pair to get rid of the dog or move.

“He’s part of the family now. I’d rather move,” said Spc. Brown, who has lived in the complex in the 2500 block of East Pikes Peak Avenue since 2008.

The brewing standoff over the treasured family pet may be unique in its particulars, but it’s hardly an old story in Colorado Springs, where lovers of so-called “aggressive breeds” come into frequent conflict with landlords.

Although the city has no ordinances that prohibit pit bulls or other controversial dogs, many large apartment complexes ban them, citing the safety of other residents and concerns about liability.

And soldiers appear to be in a harder spot than many dog lovers.

In 2008, Fort Carson adopted an Army-wide ban on certain dogs including pit bulls and added several more breeds in the process, making the post is more restrictive than required.

Fort Carson’s dog ban includes Rottweilers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Akita Inus, Doberman Pinschers, chows, Mastiffs and wolf hybrids, said Lynn Rivera of Balfour Beatty Communities, which manages the 3,060 houses on post. Only dogs registered before the ban took effect are permitted.

“They either have the choice to not have the pet or not move into housing, because we do not allow them,” Rivera said.

Families found in violation of the ban are generally given a week to find a new home for the pet or give notice they will leave post, she said.

Finding a suitable home off the post can be a challenge.

Laura Russmann, executive director of the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado, said privately enforced dog bans became a hot topic in 2009 as 4th Infantry Division soldiers moved here in large numbers from Fort Hood, Tex.

Russmann’s advice, then and now: Forget apartment complexes and find a single-family house for rent with plenty of space between neighbors.

“Because of the liability, most large professionally run apartment complexes will not allow aggressive breeds,” Russmann said.

Pet bans are a leading factor cited by dog owners who give their animals up at the county shelter, said Stacey Candella, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.

Pit bulls, with their enduring notoriety, are among the most abandoned breed, she said.

Housing the controversial dogs is enough of a challenge that the Humane Society requires a signed form from landlords before it allows anyone to adopt pit bulls, and workers perform site inspections to ensure the dogs will be properly cared for, Candella said.

Brown, 22, of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, has no interest in giving up his dog, putting him at odds with the terms of his lease at Grand View Apartments, which spells out the restrictions on aggressive breeds.

Brown said he inquired at the management office before getting the dog from an Army buddy in June and was told that it shouldn’t be a problem. A manager at Grand View disputed his version, saying that Brown had the dog for six weeks before the leasing office learned about it.

Once Brown returns from training in Pinon Canon in southeastern Colorado Springs in early September, he said intends to focus on finding new lodging, even if it means paying to terminate his lease.

Relatives worry about the prospect of Brown losing the pet.

The soldier’s mother, Janet Brown, said Axel has done more than the Army or anyone else to comfort her son after a turbulent year in Iraq that ended in the fall of 2009.

Once happy-go-lucky, she said, her son came home moody and anxious. He complained of frequent headaches and hated being around large crowds. What sleep he managed to get was interrupted by nightmares.

Talking to Army psychologists didn’t seem to help, but Axel did.

“He seemed excited for the first time since he got back from Iraq,” Janet Brown said. “Now he’s faced with losing the one thing that had made him happy again.”

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