New federal guidelines tightening the traditionally loosey-goosey definition "service animals" go into effect today. From now on only dogs (and, um, in some cases, miniature horses) that have been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability" will fit the Americans with Disabilities Act's legal description of a service animal.
But while this shrinks the ranks of what can be considered a service animal -- no more lizards, cats, parrots, monkeys, pot-bellied pigs -- it also explicitly extends that definition to include alldogs regardless of breed. This puts the pit bull bans in Aurora and Denver square in the cross-hairs for potential future litigation -- on top of the class-action lawsuit both cities are facing from disabled residents who use pit bulls as service animals.
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The ruling by the Department of Justice last year doesn't specifically mention pit bulls. Rather, it found that local governments cannot use ordinances banning certain dog breeds as a justification to prevent a disabled person from utilizing any service dog of their choosing. A memo from the department says that decisions as to whether a dog should be permitted under the umbrella of "service animal" should be "based on that particular animal's actual behavior or history -- not based on fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave."
City attorneys in Denver and Aurora have been scrambling to convince elected leaders to enact ordinances that would carve out narrow exemptions to their breed bans. The Denver City Council shot down a proposed exemption last year. Aurora -- whose ban also includes eight other "bully breeds" such as American Bulldog and Cane Corso -- is considering establishing a "Restricted Breed" license for ban breeds that qualify as service animals. The measure will be discussed in the Neighborhood Services Policy Committee on Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, the Denver City Council's Health, Safety, Education & Services Committee is scheduled to meet in executive session this afternoon to get an update from city attorneys about the on-going "pit bull litigation."