Colorado town considers repealing pit bull ban in landmark vote

This November, Aurora Colorado will be the first town to consider 'breed-specfiic legislation' on a general-election ballot. The city will consider repealing a nine-year-old ban on pit bulls.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A pit bull with ice-blue eyes stands behind a truck he is chained to in Tamaula, Mexico, in February 2012.

Sharee Talbot wants her dog back. For now, though, she has to drive out of town to visit Buddy because the two-year-old pit bullisn't allowed in her hometown of Aurora.

"Look at him. He's funny. He's goofy," Talbot said on a recent visit with Buddy and his foster family at an Englewood dog park. Talbot had to give up Buddy last year after an Aurora animal control officer seized him for violating city's ban on pit bulls.

Voters will consider repealing their nine-year-old pit bull ban on November ballots. Talbot is hoping voters ax the ban and allow her to take Buddy home.

"I'd take him home in a heartbeat," Talbot said.

Aurora's vote, the first in the nation on a general-election ballot, could presage other public votes on so-called "breed-specific legislation," laws that either ban some types of dogs or require they be sterilized.

Aurora's pit bull ban is one of several along the Front Range. Denver, Castle Rock, Commerce City and Louisville are among 700 or so cities nationwide that prohibit pit bulls or other dog breeds deemed a public safety risk.

Pit bulls are getting a warmer reception in recent years, though. Nineteen states, but not Colorado, now have laws that prohibit communities from banning dog breeds.

Aurora is a rarity for putting the question to a public vote. Aurora officials sent the question to voters after years of fielding complaints that its pit bull ban is unfair and punishes dogs instead of negligent owners.

"We wanted to resolve the question," Aurora councilman Bob LeGare said. "This issue would just continually come back to us every couple years."

The vote sets animal activists at odds. Aurora's animal care division opposes repeal, saying dog bites in the city have gone down since the ban was adopted in 2005.

The Texas-based group DogsBite argues that it's humane to ban breeds because pit bulls are disproportionately euthanized relative to other breeds.

"Nationwide we euthanize a million pit bulls a year, and the breed takes up a lot of resources in our shelters," said DogsBite founder Colleen Long, who survived a dog mauling in 2007.

But some animal activists including the American Kennel Club say banning entire dog breeds is less effective than targeting irresponsible dog owners.

"These kinds of breed bans hurt responsible owners more than irresponsible owners," AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said.

Breed bans have been challenged but upheld in Colorado courts. The state Supreme Court upheld Denver's pit bull ban in 1991, and a federal court dismissed a challenge to Aurora's ban in 2009.

A Colorado dog-advocacy group hopes Aurora voters are willing to reconsider pit bulls even if the courts won't.

ColoRADogs argues that breed bans are aimed more at the types of people likely to own pit bulls, especially minorities, than at the dogs themselves.

ColoRADogs founder Nancy Tranzow pointed out that dog-owners accused of owning pit bulls sometimes have to pay for DNA tests to prove their pet is less than 50 percent pit bull, a burden for dog owners who may have done nothing wrong.

"If you're incredibly poor and your dog gets picked up, you have to go in and if you can't afford a DNA test, maybe the dog gets euthanized and there's nothing you can do about it," Tranzow said. "People are losing their dogs because of what they look like. It's not right."

Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt.

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