Animals That Denver Residents Can and Can't Have as Pets

You can't keep a raccoon as a pet in Denver.
You can't keep a raccoon as a pet in Denver. Will Scullin/Flickr
On the morning of December 19, someone named HitMan_324 tweeted at the Denver Police Department account and asked, "hypothetically speaking......if I was to own a pet raccoon named chonko would I get in trouble?"

DPD's account responded, "That's a question for Denver Animal Protection. You can call them at 311. BTW, Chonko is a great name for a pet raccoon."

That got us thinking: What animals are — and are not — allowed as pets in Denver?

Sorry to break it to you, HitMan_324, but Chonko has got to go. The city considers raccoons wild animals, meaning residents aren't allowed to keep them as pets. They're better left to roam parks or dumpster-dive than to burrow a hole in your couch, anyway.

The city is actually quite particular about what animals can't be kept at home.

"[City ordinance] basically says people can't have venomous snakes, can't have a snake larger than six feet in length, can't have crocodiles," says Daniel Ettinger, a Denver Animal Protection officer, adding that specific rules are in place to maintain public health and safety.

According to the ordinance, Denverites also can't have poisonous spiders or scorpions or keep squirrels as pets. Pitbulls are also banned in Denver, unless they're being used as service animals.

Ettinger says that he and his colleagues don't usually come across prohibited pets. But they've seen some weird stuff.

"A few years back, we actually had someone keeping a large caiman as a pet. It was four or five feet," Ettinger says. For those less familiar with reptiles, a caiman is basically a small crocodile.

click to enlarge Denver Animal Protection officers had to take this caiman away from its owner. - COURTESY OF DANIEL ETTINGER
Denver Animal Protection officers had to take this caiman away from its owner.
Courtesy of Daniel Ettinger
"In the past, there's been people that have had monkeys that we've been in contact with," Ettinger says, noting that monkeys are prohibited as pets.

"We had a call a couple years back where someone claimed that the owner of a marijuana dispensary on the 16th Street Mall was coming in with a was a marmoset," he continues. "When we went there, the monkey wasn't with him, and he was advised that it wasn't allowed in the city. So we never had any complaints after that."

Not too long ago, officers came across a caracal, which is an African wild cat, at a home. "That is not allowed in the city and county of Denver," Ettinger says.

Animal protection can confiscate illegal pets and issue owners a summons that could lead to up to 300 days in jail and a maximum $999 fine. Officers then try to find the animal a proper habitat, or work with the owner to remove it from Denver.

So what about less traditional pets that residents can have? They include chinchillas, ferrets, Mongolian gerbils, guinea pigs, lab mice, lab rats, hedgehogs and sugar gliders. A household can have a combined total of eight hens or ducks with a special city permit. That same permit gives households the right to have two goats. It lasts indefinitely and costs $25 at the Denver Animal Shelter.

"Before, people were only allowed to have dwarf goats," Ettinger says in reference to an ordinance passed by Denver City Council in July 2018 that lifted restrictions on the kinds of goats that can be kept in homes.

Keeping larger pets, like horses and pigs, or housing turkeys or more than eight total ducks and chickens also requires a city permit, which must be renewed on an annual basis and costs between $50 and $100.

It's also okay to have a total of five dogs and cats without exceeding three dogs. Your at-home coop is allowed to house up to 25 pigeons. No more than two rabbits and two domestic honeybee hives are also fine to have.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.