Aurora might observe Denver in lifting its pit bull ban – and it is not the one metropolis contemplating it
Thousands of pit bulls on the Denver subway are being freed from longstanding laws aimed at them and the change of heart towards the dogs is happening at a speed.
Last month, Denver voters decisively lifted the city’s 30-year pit bull ban. Castle Rock’s elected leaders did the same two years earlier, ending a 26-year ban on pit bulls in the city of Douglas County.
Commerce City is in the middle of abolishing race-specific laws after 15 years. The final vote on the matter is scheduled for early January.
Now the spotlight is shifting to Aurora, where two measures to lift the city’s pit bull ban will be put in place in the city council on Monday – one leaves the decision to the city council and the other asks voters to make the call.
“An animal doesn’t have to be a pit bull to have a violent incident,” said Aurora Councilor Allison Hiltz, who urges her fellow councilors to approve an end to the ban. “Picking a specific breed doesn’t address the issue of responsible ownership and what doesn’t.”
Hiltz said with Aurora’s recent overhaul of its Animal Code, which put in place strict dangerous canine measures to counter threatening or harmful behaviors from any breed of dog, it was time to legislate against pit bulls. According to Aurora’s classification, this means American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers could all live in the city.
Aurora now places special restrictions on owners whose dogs display dangerous behavior – from requiring a dog to wear a snout to the owner taking out liability insurance.
“It’s not a race problem,” said Hiltz. “It’s a human problem, so let’s address the human problem.”
This is how David Edelstein, president of the Arvada-based Pit-a-Full team, sees it. His organization has been pushing for an end to pit bull bans for more than half a decade, saying, “They don’t work.” Instead, the responsibility should lie with the owners who abuse their pit bulls or do not train them properly. Factors he said most often lead to deviant behavior in a dog.
“You have to write really effective legislation that will make dog owners liable. If your dog runs at large we won’t warn you – we will beat you with fines, ”he said. “Those particular laws that try to single out a race to address a common problem are wrong from the start.”
But Mia Johnson, a founder of National Pit Bull Victim Awareness, said the breed showed its real colors. Her organization’s website has compiled media reports of deadly pit bull encounters across North America, showing that 31 people have been killed so far this year.
Johnson, whose 5-pound dog was gutted by a pit bull a few years ago while walking through her neighborhood in Vancouver, Canada, said a pit bull kills someone every nine days on average.
“Pit bulls are lovable and goofy dogs, but they’re unpredictable,” she said. “One of the problems with a pit bull attack is that there is almost no warning.”
The other problem, Johnson said, is that while many other breeds bite, pit bull attacks are much more likely to result in serious injury or death. In statistics compiled by dogbite.org for the years 2005 to 2019, dogs killed 521 Americans. Pit bulls were responsible for two out of three of these murders – or 346 deaths.
“The first bite is often fatal,” said Johnson.
Or if not fatal, seriously harmful. In 2005, 10-year-old Gregg Jones was hit by three pit bulls in his backyard in Aurora, where he lost his left arm and injured his face. The attack came nine days after the city passed its ban on bringing new pit bulls to Aurora.
Jones told The Associated Press in a 2018 interview that despite the attack, he had no ill will towards the breed and was in favor of lifting Aurora’s pit bull ban.
“You are still a normal dog. They are not malicious, ”he said. “It’s just the way you treat her.”
This is the conclusion of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which in its statement on the subject states that “heredity, early experience, socialization and training, gender and reproductive status” are far more important than its breed in determining a dog’s behavior.
In the roughly two years since Castle Rock lifted its ban and switched to a “behavioral assessment” of pets, the city police department has not seen a noticeable increase in pit bull-related dog bites, according to a city spokeswoman.
While pit bull biting incidents fluctuated between three and four a year for the three years before the ban ended, the city recorded two pit bull biting incidents in 2019 and three so far this year. Since 2018, seven dogs identified as dangerous have been removed from Castle Rock. Nobody was a pit bull, the city said.
In Aurora, there are around 400 cases of dogs biting people in the city each year. Since 2017, pit bull bites have accounted for 34 to 69 of all dog bites annually, according to the city.
Despite the data, pit bulls generate strong feelings and emotions. Many of the attacks were cruel and some had children. Media attention tends to be very high after abuse.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, who is in favor of lifting the ban, said he would prefer the final decision to be made by the voters, not the city council. His alternative move, scheduled for Monday’s meeting, would relegate a question to the November 2021 vote.
“For me it is a matter of process and voter respect,” he said. “It is a moral responsibility to get it back to the voters as they have already voted on the issue.”
Six years ago, voters in Aurora overwhelmingly opposed – with a 2-1 lead – the lifting of the city’s pit bull ban. Coffman said he carefully worded his proposed polling question, adding guard rails that would require owners to take additional steps to register the breed in the city.
“With these protections in place, I’m confident that we can have the restricted races in town that are no more dangerous than the unrestricted races,” he said.
Hiltz, the city councilor, said she respected Coffman’s request to get the issue out to voters. But she said an end to the pit bull ban has been debated for years, with plenty of opportunities for public contributions during this time.
“We did the public relations,” she said. “It’s been three years in development and I am ready to move this forward.”