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Mayor Hancock Vetoes Ordinance Legalizing Pit Bulls in Denver

A photo from our slideshow "Parade of Pit Bulls 2013."
A photo from our slideshow "Parade of Pit Bulls 2013."
Photo by Darian Simon

Moments ago, in a classic late-Friday news dump, three-term Denver mayor Michael Hancock used his first-ever veto to reject a restricted breed licensing proposal that would have made pit bulls legal in the Mile High City for the first time since a ban was put in place way back in 1989.

The measure, conceived by Denver City Council member Chris Herndon, was approved on Monday, February 10, by a 7-4 vote, with two members absent — one (Candi CdeBaca) who had voted for the ordinance at an earlier stage and another (Stacie Gilmore) who'd previously turned thumbs-down. Nine votes are needed to override Hancock's veto.

In the letter to council released late on February 14 (see it below), Hancock said, "At the end of the day, I must ask whether passage of this ordinance would make our homes and neighborhoods safer or pose an increased risk to public safety? I have concluded that it would pose an increased risk. I encourage members of City Council to reconsider their approach to this ordinance, which has been in the municipal code for over three decades. If we were to make this change now, and harm comes to someone as a result, then we have done a disservice to the people of this great city."

Quinn Pigott, a co-lead of Replace Denver BSL (the letters stand for "breed-specific license"), which vigorously advocated on behalf of Herndon's idea, was saddened by the mayor's decision. "We were hoping he would listen to his constituents and the city council and hear that this is something we want in the city," he says. "But this isn't the end."

The council will reconsider the ordinance at its February 24 meeting, and Pigott notes that "we're hoping we can get more councilmembers on board. That's our next goal."

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She adds: "I really want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart. We couldn't have done this without them. This has reached all across the country and the world. The support that was put forward was truly amazing. I know everyone is going to be really disappointed, but I want them to know we're not done fighting."

Here's the text of Hancock's February 14 letter:

Council President Clark and members of City Council:

Over the past several days, I have heard from thousands of residents passionately expressing their opinions on both sides of this issue. I want to thank everyone who has shared their views, especially those I have spoken to personally — experts in veterinary care, animal care and control, as well as residents of our city who have had experiences with the pit bull breeds – all to gain a broader understanding of what this change would mean for our community and those who own these dogs. After deep reflection and consideration, I find that I cannot, in good conscience, support this legislation and will exercise my authority as Mayor to veto it.

Let me say at the outset that I salute the sponsor of this ordinance, Councilman Herndon, and his fellow Council members, who have tried to craft legislation that creates a data and licensing system for these breeds that is supported by veterinary experts and encourages owners of pit bull breeds to manage their pets. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of all pets in Denver are currently licensed, which raises significant questions about the effectiveness of this proposed new system. While much progress has been made in recent years to increase that number, more intentional efforts around responsible pet ownership, dog licensure and registration, and off-lease dogs are needed before this proposal should be considered. The reality is that irresponsible pet owners continue to be a problem, and it is the irresponsible owners and their dogs I must consider in evaluating the overall impact of this ordinance.

We cannot diminish the very real, very traumatic experiences of those who have reached out to me to share their stories. While I appreciate the effort that Councilman Herndon has put in to crafting this ordinance and its guardrails, I do not believe this ordinance fully addresses the very real risk to severe injury that can result from attacks from these particular dog breeds, especially should they happen to a child.

At the end of the day, I must ask whether passage of this ordinance would make our homes and neighborhoods safer or pose an increased risk to public safety? I have concluded that it would pose an increased risk. I encourage members of City Council to reconsider their approach to this ordinance, which has been in the municipal code for over three decades. If we were to make this change now, and harm comes to someone as a result, then we have done a disservice to the people of this great city.

Respectfully,

Michael B. Hancock
Mayor

This post has been updated with information about the scheduling of the veto override vote for the Denver City Council's February 24 meeting.

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