Pit Bulls Rethinking Bans

Cameron Younglove plays with a pit bull terrier named Sooke at his kennels near Eudora, Kan., Sunday, March 9, 2014. For much of the past three decades, pit bulls have been widely regarded as America’s most dangerous dog, but attitudes have softened considerably since then as animal activists and even television shows cast the dogs in a more positive light. 

In a 7-3 vote, the Aurora City Council lifted the city’s Restricted Breed Ordinance on Monday, allowing residents to own pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers within city limits.

The final vote for the ordinance was led by council member Allison Hiltz and will go into effect immediately.

The Council chose to vote on the ordinance itself instead of Mayor Mike Coffman’s plan to introduce a ballot measure on lifting the ban that would have gone to a public vote in November. Coffman’s plan was rejected with a 3-7 vote.

Council members Francoise Bergan, Dave Gruber and Marsha Berzins voted against lifting the ban, all arguing that the proposal should have been decided on by the voters.

In 2014, an Aurora ballot measure to lift the Restricted Breed Ordinance failed with 64% voting against the measure.

“This action that this Council is taking shows contempt for the voters,” Berzins said. “For those of you that vote for this just remember that you did.”

Bergan claimed that an attorney contacted the council saying they plan to file a lawsuit for “delegitimizing voters’ decision.”

However, Hiltz said the city’s circumstances have changed drastically since 2014, including animal service outreach and surveys showing public support for lifting breed restrictions.

Other council members pointed out that the original Restricted Breed Ordinance was put into place in 2005 by the City Council without any public vote. And in 2011, the council limited the breeds affected by the ban from 10 to three.

“We’re not overriding a vote, we’re correcting something that shouldn’t have ever gone to the voters in the form that it was,” Council member Crystal Murillo said.

Murillo also argued that the city's recently passed Dangerous Dog Ordinance addresses menacing or harmful behaviors by any breed without unfair breed targeting.

These new measures include requiring a dog to wear a muzzle or the owner to buy liability insurance.

Dr. Apryl Steele, veterinarian and president and CEO of the Denver Dumb Friends League, sent a letter in support of lifting the ban that was read during Monday’s meeting.

“The reality is that pit bulls already live in Aurora,” Steele’s letter stated.

“Every council member is concerned about the safety of our community, that is exactly why it is vital to create a community where pit bull puppies can be socialized without fear of having them confiscated.”

Steele said lifting Aurora’s pit bull ban will allow residents to adopt pit bulls from legitimate organizations that use behavioral experts instead of underground breeders.

Steele also said breed bans force owners to under socialize their dogs and avoid getting the dogs proper veterinary care and professional training, which only increases health and behavioral issues.

In 2020, 12% of reported dog bites in Aurora were from restricted breeds. That’s down from nearly 16% in 2019.

Aurora spends 2.5 times as much on average to shelter restricted breeds like pit bulls, according to city data. Resources also are spent on enforcing restrictions as the city issued 253 summons regarding restricted breeds this year.

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