Colin McCallin April 13, 2016

Update – June 2020

In February of this year, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed a motion by the city council to end the longstanding ban on pit bulls within the city and county of Denver. The council’s 7-4 vote to overturn the ban came with a number of conditions to be observed by pit bull owners, including registration with Denver Animal Protection and a limit of two pit bulls per household, but the mayor felt these conditions were insufficient to ensure public safety. In a statement he issued to explain the veto, Hancock said, "At the end of the day, I must ask whether passage of this ordinance would make our homes and neighborhoods safer or pose an increased risk to public safety? [sic] I have concluded that it would pose an increased risk." Municipalities outside Denver, meanwhile, have taken various stances on this kind of breed-specific legislation. The city of Aurora last week held a virtual town hall to allow residents to vote on the issue; no decision has yet been reported.

Breed Specific Legislation

Spring has sprung and you’re ready to enjoy the myriad of outdoor activities that Colorado provides for you and your dog: hiking, visiting the many parks, enjoying outdoor festivals. But did you know that your breed of dog may not be welcome even at dog-friendly events?

Several municipalities in our state have what is known as Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) meaning that a specific type of dog is banned. The breed in question here is Pit Bulls, which is in itself a misnomer. Pit Bull is a general name for a group of dogs with similar features, the actual breed types are American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There are other breeds that exhibit similar traits like Boxers and Mastiffs and their owners may also have to submit to DNA tests and assessments to prove they are not a Pit Bull breed.

Which Cities Ban Pit Bulls?

Currently the municipalities with bans are Denver, Aurora, Castle Rock, Commerce City, Ft. Lupton, Lone Tree and Louisville.

What Does a Ban Mean?

A ban means that your dog can be impounded for exhibiting a majority of features of a Pit Bull. Usually however, the dog is only detained if he or she is involved in some canine violation, like being loose or if the dog is involved in an incident with a person or another dog.   A Pit Bull owner can also be reported to animal control by anyone.

In Denver, the dog is then evaluated by breed experts at the shelter to see if he is more than half Pit Bull. The evaluation may take 3-5 days and the owner is responsible for the fees incurred during this stay if they find the dog is mostly Pit. If the findings prove the dog is not a Pit Bull the owner is not responsible for impound and assessment fees. The owner may file a petition within 7 days to dispute the findings if he or she disagrees.

If the dog is determined to be a Pit Bull the owner has the option to move the dog from the city limits to someplace without a ban. If it is determined to be less than half Pit, Denver will provide a breed evaluation letter that clears the animal from further scrutiny. A second impound of the same Pit Bull means the dog becomes property of Denver Animal Protection who will try to place the dog in a rescue where there is not a ban. However, if the dog cannot be placed or has bitten, he may be euthanized.

In Aurora, the dog owner may submit genetic testing to prove how much or how little DNA is Pit Bull breeds. And if the dog is found to be a Pit Bull by more than 50% and lived in Aurora before the ban was imposed in 2006 you may obtain a special license to keep him. Otherwise, an owner of a Pit Bull will be fined $700 the first time they are caught and they are asked to move the dog outside of the city limits.

Can I Take My Pit Bull to the Vet?

Yes! In both Denver and Aurora, veterinarians do not have a reporting requirement and want to continue to provide services to you and your pet. It is recommended that you call ahead when screening new vets to make sure the specific doctor or clinic does not have their own policy regarding breeds. Additionally, talk to your vet about breed reporting and microchipping. When an animal is chipped for easier identification if lost, their breed is specified. A pit bull friendly vet can help you navigate the best course of action here without fear of being reported.

Do These Laws Work to Reduce Bites?

Supporters of BSL point to statistics that indicate breeds like Pit Bulls and Rottweilers (which are not banned anywhere in Colorado) are responsible for 82% of dog bites and therefore they believe banning the breeds keeps people safer.

However, assessments of the legislation both in Colorado and elsewhere around the world tell a far less conclusive story. In Denver, since the ban was enacted there has not been a reduction in the number of pit bulls kept by residents and bites decreased among all breeds not just Pit Bulls. There has been one fatal dog bite incident since the ban, and it was a chow, not a bully breed. In fact, a report that came out in 2006, indicated that between 1995 and 2006 Denver had 273 dog bites that required a hospital visit compared to Boulder’s 46. Boulder has no breed specific ban and during this period of time the population of Denver was less than twice that of Boulder’s.

Aurora banned the breeds in 2006 and has shown no decrease in dog bite incidents and of those incidents, the majority involve non-pit bull breeds.

Additionally, extensive studies in Spain and Great Britain which had Pit Bull bans yielded no change in the number dog attacks and did nothing about breeds not covered in the legislation.

Many responsible pet owners argue that based on the lack of change the legislation has yielded in dog bite incidents, the approach should not be about breeds but community and dog owner education as well as dog owner accountability.

In the meantime, know the law so you can enjoy your dog’s company and keep him or her safe.