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. 

Denver is one of more than 700 U.S. cities with dog breed-specific laws, and for the foreseeable future it will remain that way.

Denver City Council needed nine votes on Monday night to override Mayor Michael Hancock’s veto of a bill that would have effectively repealed the city’s decades-old pit bull ban. In an 8-5 vote, the 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 voted to uphold it.

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“I have to admit I’m disappointed, because during this entire conversation, not one time did the third floor come to me and say, ‘Let’s have a conversation,’” said Herndon, the lead sponsor of the bill. “That’s how the process should work — not just have the bill come to your desk and sign a veto five days later.”

Mike Strott, spokesman for the mayor's office, told Colorado Politics by email that Hancock "did have conversations with Councilman Herndon regarding his proposal." 

Since Hancock announced his decision to veto the bill — the first veto in his three-term tenure — he’s been on the receiving end of countless reactions both positive and negative, including from Gov. Jared Polis, who two days after Hancock made his decision posted a photo on Twitter of himself cuddled up to a pit bull puppy at the governor’s mansion.

Hancock's decision also drew dissent from council members on Monday.

Kniech said that in the mayor's Feb. 14 letter to council members explaining his decision to veto, he did “not adequately reference the record or process that was established under this ordinance” and conveyed a “false sense of security,” considering “the current ban has not been able to guarantee the safety that our community seeks.”

CdeBaca said the mayor’s decision is “an illustration of his disrespect for Council’s power,” and added that she thinks it’s important to fight for a full repeal of breed-specific legislation, because “this kind of legislation was designed to target people of color.”  

"As Mayor Hancock stated in his veto letter to council," Strott wrote, "more intentional efforts around responsible pet ownership, dog licensure and registration, and off-leash dogs are needed and he has encouraged members of City Council to reconsider their approach to this ordinance." 

In his letter, the mayor said he could not “in good conscience” support the legislation because it “would pose an increased risk to public safety.”

“If the mayor does believe that he cannot … sign this bill because of the potential life that would be lost,” CdeBaca said, “I think we need to hold him to that when we talk about other repeals,” referring to the city’s urban camping ban, which she intends to repeal later this year.

Several councilors, including Flynn, Sawyer, Kashmann and Sandoval agreed that the issue should go to the ballot in November, which is something that Herndon said in an earlier statement he was ready to make happen should the need arise.

Gilmore — whose district includes Montbello, where many residents favor the pit bull ban — and Ortega both expressed disapproval over a lack of public outreach around the current ordinance.

In Montbello, Gilmore said, grown men and women walk with sticks, golf clubs and brooms to protect themselves against dogs.

“If you haven’t been to our community, if you haven’t talked to our residents, you don’t know and you don’t understand,” she said.

Herndon admitted he had not held any public outreach meetings in the legislative process.

In Denver, only about 18% of dogs were licensed in 2020, according to Denver Animal Protection.

Kashmann said he wants that number to go up. “I’d like to see a public relations campaign and education campaign on responsible ownership” before any other steps are taken.

Nevertheless, he said, “I can’t imagine that there’s not a path forward with this.”

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