It’s time for pit bulls in Denver to come out of the shadows, city leaders say.
But the end of the city's pit bull ban, which was passed by the legislative branch Monday night, isn't set in stone, according to the Denver's executive branch.
"Mayor [Michael] Hancock wants to be thoughtful regarding his decision about this," spokesman Mike Strott said in an email to Colorado Politics. "As such, he hasn't decided to sign the ordinance or not at this time."
The mayor has until Sunday to make a decision, and there are three possible scenarios that could play out: He signs the legislation, and the law takes effect in 90 days; he vetoes the bill and punts it back to Denver City Council, which would require a super majority, or nine votes, to overrule him; or he takes no action, meaning the ordinance automatically becomes law on Sunday.
In a 7-4 vote on Monday, City Council agreed to lift the ban on pit bulls that’s been in place for more than three decades. The narrow decision followed an hour-long, passionate public hearing during which more than 25 people, roughly split on the issue, shared their stance.
Opponents of the bill, many of whom were longtime Montbello residents, claimed the dogs are dangerous by nature and pointed to the prevalence of attacks across the country. Those in support, including animal rights advocates, argued the ban is ineffective, inequitable and data-deprived.
Several of the same reasons drove council members Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Chris Hinds, Robin Kniech, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres to vote in favor of Councilman Chris Herndon’s proposal.
The other members — Kevin Flynn, Paul Kashmann, Debbie Ortega and Amanda Sawyer — couldn’t bring themselves to back the bill.
Their concerns, fueled by a lack of community consensus, revolved around safety, compliance and enforcement. Many pet owners in the city already struggle to comply with basic rules, like leash laws, they said. More regulations could only complicate the issue.
Councilwomen Candi CdeBaca and Stacie Gilmore were absent, although the latter – who represents Montbello – made clear last week that she was against Herndon’s proposal.
Right before the roughly 10 p.m. vote, Herndon made a final case to his colleagues.
“Our community is not safer with this breed-specific legislation,” he said.
“We know these dogs are in our community, … but where are they? We don’t know. If this measure passes, we know they’re vaccinated, we know they’re spayed and neutered, and studies will tell you spays and neuters lower the probability of something that can happen.”
Many advocates took a similar position, including Shira Hereld, who co-founded Replace Denver BSL.
“The facts and the experts show us this proposed ordinance will make Denver safe,” Hereld said. “Our breed-specific legislation has not worked.”
But some, including Councilwoman Ortega, looked to the past to inform the present. She was the only council member who recalled the testimonies from when the law was passed in 1989, and family members who’d lost their children to pit bulls advocated for the ban in council chambers.
The most compelling argument causing her to vote for the ban back then and to keep it in place on Monday night, she said, was the severity of the injuries from pit bull maulings.
“I just don’t think this ban really addresses the heart of some of these issues that are critical to justifying making this change,” she said.
Denver’s new law applies to three breeds that fall under the pit bull label: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The law does not repeal the breed-specific legislation entirely, but instead uses by a breed-restricted license that pit bull owners would have to obtain to come into compliance with the revised city ordinance.
No more than two pit bulls will be allowed per household, and owners would be required to call Denver Animal Protection within eight hours of a bite or escape, and within 24 hours of the dog dying or the owner moving.
Pit bull owners must also spay or neuter their pets to obtain the license.
A fee for the license has yet to be determined, but Denver Animal Protection estimates it will be between $30 and $50.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a clarification from the mayor's office regarding the mayor's deadline to make his decision.