Vicki Gramm walks her Pit Bull, Max, along the lake at Memorial Park before partaking in the "Bully Walk" put on by the Southern Colorado Pit Bull Advocates at Memorial Park on Sunday, August 5, 2012. Photo by Susannah Kay, The Gazette

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Denver Councilman Chris Herndon told a City Council committee on Tuesday, quoting the late baseball legend Yogi Berra, before presenting his proposal to lift the city’s nearly 30-year-old pit bull ban for the second time this year.

His argument then and his argument now, based on controlled studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association, is that pit bulls “are not disproportionately dangerous compared with other dogs.”

This go around, however, there is one key difference: voters.

Herndon’s bill, which was advanced Tuesday by the Finance and Governance Committee, will be weighed by the full Council in August and, if approved, referred to the November 3 ballot as such:

“Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance authorizing the city to grant a provisional permit to owners or keepers of a pit bull, provided the owner microchips the animal and complies with additional requirements set by Denver Animal Protection?”

Herndon, who represents a portion of northeast Denver that includes the Park Hill and Stapleton neighborhoods, tried earlier this year to repeal the 1989 ordinance but was unsuccessful after he failed to gather the supermajority needed to overturn Mayor Michael Hancock’s veto  the first and only of his three-term tenure.  

The Denver City Council needed nine votes that night of Feb. 24, but the 13-member body fell one vote shy of making it happen. Council members Kendra Black, Candi CdeBaca, Jolon Clark, Chris Herndon, Chris Hinds, Robin Kniech, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres voted in favor of bypassing Hancock’s decision. Kevin Flynn, Stacie Gilmore, Paul Kashmann, Debbie Ortega and Amanda Sawyer stood with him.

In his veto letter, Hancock said he could not “in good conscience” support the legislation because it “would pose an increased risk to public safety,” a concern that was echoed by the dissenting council members and many of their constituents in council chambers.

“Here’s the reality: Irresponsible pet owners continue to be a problem, and it is the irresponsible owners and their dogs I must consider in evaluating the overall impact of this ordinance,” Hancock said Feb. 14. “I cannot diminish nor dismiss the very real, traumatic experiences of people who contacted me and are part of the overall record of attacks by these dogs.”

Next month, Herndon will only need six other council members’ votes to get the issue into Denver voters’ hands, and several of the council members who didn’t support him in February  including Flynn, Kashmann and Sawyer  have already agreed the issue should go to voters.

To own a pit bill under Herndon’s proposal, a resident must register with Denver Animal Protection to obtain a “breed-restricted permit,” which requires an owner to provide their name and address where the dog will reside, two emergency contacts, an accurate description of the pit bull, an annual fee and proof the dog was microchipped and current on rabies vaccinations.

Residents could own up to two pit bulls per home. If no violations for the dog are recorded for three consecutive years, it would be allowed to register like any other dog in Denver.

If approved by voters, Herndon’s proposal would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.


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