Proposal to lift pit bull ban in Denver clears first hurdle

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DENVER – The Denver City Council will soon decide whether to lift its ban on pit bulls.

Wednesday morning, City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee met to discuss the proposal. They approved the measure to move on for further consideration.

District 8 Councilman Chris Hernon introduced the change, calling it "long overdue."

Since 1989, Denver has had breed specific legislation (BSL) on the books banning pit bulls.

Proponents now say BSL does more harm in the community than good by punishing a breed of dogs rather than punishing irresponsible owners.

The proposed measure would replace Denver’s BSL with a breed-restricted license. The license would require the owner’s name and address, two emergency contacts, an accurate description of the dog, and proof of a microchip and rabies vaccination.

Dog owners would be limited to two pit bulls per household. They would also be required to notify Denver Animal Protection within eight hours of a bite or escape and within 24 hours of moving or the death of the dog.

“If there are no violations for this animal over the course of 36 months, then Denver Animal Protection may remove the requirement for a breed-restricted license and the owner would transition to the regular license that you can get for your Dalmatian, Siberian Husky and Chihuahua right now,” Herndon said.

Without the license, pit bull owners would not be allowed to keep a pit bull in the city and county of Denver.

Proponents of the measure say it will help make the community safer.

“It’ll make it safer because we’ll be able to know where the pit bulls are. We’ll be able to give them resources with veterinary needs and behavioral needs and make sure that they are just as well-adjusted as the other dogs in our community,” Apryl Steele, CEO of the Denver Dumb Friends League, told FOX31.

Steele says there are clearly pit bulls already living illegally in Denver. DDFL has taken in 172 pit bulls relinquished by Denver residents in the past two years.

“They’re evaluated by our behavior team to make sure they’re safe, well-behaved dogs or healthy dogs. And people come in, they want to adopt these dogs. They fall in love with these dogs and they find out -- because they live in Denver -- they can’t adopt the dog,” Steele said.

As a result, DDFL says pit bulls stay in the shelter much longer than other dogs.

Herndon also argues the change would help free up city resources currently being used to enforce Denver’s BSL.

According to Denver Animal Protection, it has received 2,200 calls in the past four years from callers concerned about a potential pit bull living in the city and county limits. DAP said the calls did not include concerns over behavioral issues or living conditions.

Of those calls, “70 percent of them are found to be unfounded. On the initial visit, we realize that the dog is not close to being an illegal breed,” Josh Rolfe with Denver Animal Protection said during the hearing.

He added that of the 30 percent taken in for breed evaluation, just 17 percent of the dogs are illegal breeds in Denver.

At Wednesday’s hearing, experts from DDFL, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinarian from Stapleton spoke in favor of the change, calling BSL "outdated."

During public comment, seven of the eight speakers urged council members to vote in favor of lifting the ban. One person spoke against it.

Aurora resident Sheila Moser expressed concern for her grandchildren living in Denver should pit bulls be allowed to be kept as pets. She recalled an incident from Florida in which a 3-year-old was mauled by two pit bulls.

“The little boy was playing in his grandma’s fenced-in backyard. The dogs dug under the fence and tore the child apart,” she said.

Moser believes the breed is inherently more dangerous than other dog breeds.

“Pit bulls have many vocal supporters as you can see. I’m here to appeal to you as the safety committee for the city of Denver to keep in mind your main mission is the safety of your residents,” Moser said.

Committee members unanimously voted to move the discussion forward to the full City Council for consideration. Members pointed out that although they voted “yes” to move the measure out of committee, it does not mean each of them will vote “yes” to lift the ban.

The public will be invited to weigh in on the proposed change during a public hearing before a final vote takes place.

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