Aurora Follows Denver's Lead, Repeals Pit Bull Ban

Aurora Follows Denver's Lead, Repeals Pit Bull Ban
Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash
In November, Denver voters chose to repeal the city's long-running pit bull ban. That left Aurora as the largest Colorado municipality to forbid ownership of the most common pit breeds — until January 11, when the Aurora City Council voted to toss out its own prohibition by a 7-3 margin.

Ward III's Marsha Berzins was among the trio that turned thumbs-down on the proposal, and she made it clear she's afraid the change will lead to disaster. As quoted by the Aurora Sentinel, she said, "When a horrible accident happens, just remember that you voted to have them back in the city."

The change has been a long time coming, as is clear from the following timeline, included in the council's January 11 agenda:
October 24, 2005, City Council approved Ordinance 2005-84 amending Chapter 14 of the City Code to
add a new section, section 14-75, pertaining to prohibiting keeping, owning, or possessing pit bulls
and other restricted breeds of dogs in the City. The ordinance became effective November 26, 2005.

May 8, 2009, the 10th Circuit Court upheld section 14-75 of the City Code in the case of Am. Canine
Foundation v. City of Aurora, 618 F. Supp. 2nd 1271 (D. Colo. 2009). The Court determined the City
had a legitimate purpose in enacting pit bull and restricted breed ban ordinance that was the
protection of the health and safety of the public and upheld the ordinance.

May 9, 2011, City Council approved Ordinance 2011-11 amending the restricted breed ordinance
reducing the number of restricted breed dogs from ten breeds to three breeds. The three breeds
prohibited by section 14-75 was consistent with the breeds restricted by surrounding jurisdictions.

November 4, 2014, the citizens of Aurora, Colorado, voted on the advisory, nonbinding ballot question:
“Shall the People of Aurora adopt an ordinance allowing pit bulls back into the city?” The ballot
question failed with 64,251, or 64.4 percent, “No” votes and 35,515, or 35.6 percent, “Yes” votes.

August 17, 2020, City Council opted not to submit to a ballot question for the Statewide General
Election on November 3, 2020, to repeal section 14-75 of the City Code pertaining to the unlawful
keeping of restricted breed dogs.

December 7, 2020, City Council approved to move this item to a regular Council Meeting.
These are only some of the twists and turns related to the ban. In July 2019, we spoke to Aurora councilmember Charlie Richardson, who was then working with colleague Allison Hiltz on a proposal that outlined efforts to deal with aggressive animals in general as opposed to nixing specific breeds.

Richardson is no longer a member of council, but Hiltz remains in her position, and tweeted following the vote about her pleasure at succeeding with a repeal "after three years of hard work" that included short-circuiting the ballot question suggestion, promoted by Mayor Mike Coffman.

Last night's vote removed several passages from Aurora statutes, including this one: "'Restricted breed' for purposes of this chapter, is defined as any dog that is an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the majority of physical traits or genetic markers of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any of the above breeds."

Among those cheering the latest development was Dr. Apryl Steele, president and CEO of the Denver Dumb Friends League. Her statement to council about the repeal answers the rhetorical question "Why does this change need to be made now?"

"Too many families have been broken up because their family dog is a banned breed," she said. "Not because the dog showed any sign of aggression. Not because the dog injured any other animal or person. These are dogs that sleep on their owner’s beds, dogs who are providing essential companionship during a time of extreme isolation and critical mental health challenges. For many, a relationship with a pet is their only reason to engage with the world right now. To remove this source of comfort in this extreme time is indefensible."

Clearly, Berzins disagrees.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts