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Pit bull ban: Disabled Vietnam, Gulf War vets sue Denver and Aurora for discriminating against their service dogs

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A federal class-action suit involving disabled Coloradans -- two war veterans with psychological disorders -- and their service animals was filed Tuesday against Aurora, the City and County of Denver and its head of Animal Control.

The two veterans, and another disabled woman from out of state, say Denver's controversial pit-bull ban doesn't make exceptions for service dogs and their owners and is therefore a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The issue of service dogs has been in the news of late. Yesterday, we told you about a Colorado Springs attorney who was ordered to pay $50,000 for purportedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act when he barred a disabled woman and her service dog from entering his office because he was worried the dog might soil his new carpet. He refutes this assertion and claims to have settled for "economic reasons."

But pit bulls add a new twist to the service-dog issue.

The suit's plaintiffs, represented by Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center, are asking for exemptions in the controversial pit bull ban for disabled citizens and more than $75,000 in damages from the municipalities and the head of Denver Animal Control, Doug Kelly, who has taken heat over the years for his support of the ban.

The lead plaintiff on the suit, Allen Grider, is a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran who says he needs his dog, seven-year-old "Precious," to help him manage his severe post traumatic stress disorder. But in November, Aurora Police seized Precious, who Griber says isn't even a pit bull, under the city's ban and placed her in a shelter.

"I am a combat marine, so if you fuck with me too much, you'll be looking down the barrel of a marine," he says. "When I come in and I have PTSD and I'm mad about something, she won't leave me alone -- she'll calm me down until she can climb in my lap and give me kisses."

"I'm more the pit bull than she is," he claims. "I tried to tell them that."

Precious was kept at the shelter for ten days before being released to Grider's friend, who lives in another city without a pit bull ban. Calls to Aurora's Animal Care division and Denver's Animal Care and Control have not yet been returned. We'll update this blog if and when they provide comment.

Glenn Belcher, a Gulf War veteran who moved to Denver with his pit bull last year, and Valerie Piltz, a disabled woman staying with her sister in Denver, are also plaintiffs in the suit; both of them actually own pit bulls as service animals.

Precious, who is actually a chocolate lab and boxer mix, was rescued from a shelter to help Grider cope with his condition per a recommendation from a doctor. Her main duties include going ahead of him into rooms to let him know if there are groups of people or warning if someone is at the door of his Aurora home. But Grider says when she was taken away he lost more than his prescribed service dog -- he lost his greatest companion.

"They really messed me up. When she wasn't here, I wasn't able to sleep, I wasn't able to do nothing. I had a really hard time," Grider says. "And that's just exactly what she is -- precious. She never bit nobody, she's never running wild, she's not vicious. You come in my house, and she'll lick you to death before she'll bite you."

Grider is pleased that Precious is back home with him now, where tomorrow she'll celebrate her seventh year in his home. But he says the ordeal has left them both a little wounded. "She's not the same. I gotta train her again. They messed her up bad," he says.

Read the lawsuit here.

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