Denver Pit Bull Legalization Winning Big: What Now?

Denver Pit Bull Legalization Winning Big: What Now?
Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash
Although Denver's election results aren't yet official, Ballot Measure 2J, which creates a path to legal status for three pit bull breeds that have been prohibited in the Mile High City for thirty years, is winning by a huge margin. But Shira Hereld of Replace Denver BSL [Breed Specific Legislation] stops shy of declaring victory.

"While we will not announce the passage of 2J until the final votes are in, we are cautiously optimistic about the overwhelming support we've received so far," Hereld writes via email. "It is so clear to us that Denver is — and has been — ready for change."

At first blush, Hereld's caution seems unnecessary. After all, Denver election figures, updated at 5 p.m. November 4, show 2J with a 64.75 percent to 35.26 percent advantage, with more than 189,000 "yes" votes and around 103,000 in opposition — a lead that certainly seems insurmountable. But paranoia is understandable, given the twists and turns the plan has undergone over the past ten months.

In February, during the weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic changed Colorado as we knew it, one of the biggest stories in the Mile High involved the effort to dump the de facto pit bull ban. Although Denver City Council passed a proposal by member Chris Herndon to create special provisional licenses for the aforementioned breeds (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Mayor Michael Hancock, under heavy pressure from interest groups in the community, vetoed the measure — and council fell one vote shy of overriding him.

But the issue didn't go away. In August, councilmembers unanimously agreed to place the measure on the November 3 ballot, giving Denver residents the power to decide for themselves if they bought Herndon's argument in favor of the plan. As he told us at the time: "We know these breeds are in our community — and because they're banned, there's a higher possibility that the owner won't seek out professional guidance or even proper pet care. And right now, we don't know where these dogs are. If the ordinance passes, we will, and that will make our community safer."

On the November 3 ballot, 2J asked this: "Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance authorizing the city to grant a provisional permit to owners or keepers of a pit bull, provided the owner microchips the animal and complies with additional requirements set by Denver Animal Protection?"

Hereld is grateful that so many voters answered affirmatively. "We are so proud of Denver voters," she says. "In an era when facts are blurred and politics are paramount, thousands of Denver voters chose to listen to the best science and the top experts who say breed bans don't work. Our voters chose to make their voices heard in a historical election that will finally propel Denver into a modern era of responsible dog ownership. We sincerely hope that the rousing success of 2J will propel our neighbor Aurora and other cities, states and counties to end their breed bans as well."

She adds: "We are so grateful to the literally dozens of Denver volunteers who have worked behind the scenes for months to ensure 2J's passage, and to the thousands of Denverites who put their faith in our bill."

Among the doubters is Paul Vranas, the most vocal critic of the concept since Herndon announced it — and he continues to be concerned. "When vetoing this bill in the spring, Mayor Hancock did not feel like he could keep people safe with a special pit bull registration program, citing that only 20 percent of Denver residents currently register their pet," Vranas points out via email. "While the majority of Denverites do not register their pets, a majority of them have also voted for this special pit bull license."

Going forward, he continues, "Opponents to 2J will watch to see if people choose to continue to ignore our pet registration laws and leash laws, or if Mayor Hancock uses this vote to dedicate significant resources to enforcing pet registration laws and adding basic requirements for owning a pet in Denver. If we do not see a significant improvement in pet registration rates, then perhaps the people of Denver would also support removing the pet registration process altogether in a future ballot initiative."

Hereld has her own message for doubters. "Speaking directly to those who voted no on 2J, I want to assure you that Replace Denver BSL hears you," she promises. "We know you're afraid of how allowing pit bulls back into Denver will affect your and your family's safety. We are here to support all Denver residents and will work tirelessly alongside Denver Animal Protection to ensure 2J's success. We will continue to push for licensing and leashing for all dog breeds, work to offer low-cost training and resources, and connect with Denver communities to find out what everyone needs to feel safe. We started as a grassroots voice and resource in Denver, and we're not going anywhere."
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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