Aurora voters to decide whether to repeal ban on pit bulls (2024)

Aurora councilmembers on Monday decided to ask voters in November whether to repeal the city's pit bull ownership ban after a court deemed the council's vote to do so in 2021 to be invalid.

The decision is on appeal, but, in the meantime, the city could vote to put the question on the ballot,according to City Attorney Pete Schulte.

It passed unanimously.

Only seven councilmembers were present when the vote was taken — Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs were in another room listening to protesters who took over the meeting to demand the firing of the SWAT officer who killed Kilyn Lewis, whom the police sought for attempted homicide.The police said he did not comply with orders to get on the ground and raised a hand with a cellphone. He was not armed.

Councilmember Ruben Medina was not present at the meeting.

Back in 2005, the City Council passed an ordinance that banned the dog breed, except in instances where the city issued a license. Then in 2010, the city updated the ordinance to reduce the number of prohibited pit bull breeds and grant exceptions for service dogs.

Four years later, councilmembers considered an ordinance to repeal the ban but ultimately referred the decision to voters. In the November 2014 election, voters rejected the ordinance, with only 35.6% voting yes — meaning the ban stayed in place.

Then in 2021, the council repealed that ban.

The city's current dog breed restriction policy reads that residents are allowed to own American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier dogs inside city limits.

In May 2021, Aurora resident Matthew Snider filed a complaint in court against the city, asserting that, in passing an ordinance retracting the ban after voters said they wanted it, the council overrode the public's will.

Snider asked the court to declare the 2021 ordinance void.

The city filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted, but, on appeal, the decision was reversed.

In March, 18th Judicial District Court Judge Elizabeth Beebe Volz sided with Snider, ruling that the city's charter and code require "that once an ordinance has been submitted to the voters by way of resolution or referendum, the subject ordinance cannot be revived, repealed, amended or passed except by electoral vote."

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Since the city didn't put its decision to repeal the ban up for another vote, Volz declared that the repeal is void.

Snider, who filed the lawsuit, said his action isn't about dogs, but rather, about protecting the integrity of residents' vote.

“My action was not about dogs," Snider told The Denver Gazette in an email. "It was solely and exclusively aimed at protecting the decision of Aurora voters in 2014, who voted by almost a two-thirds majority to retain the large breed ban."

Snider called election results "sacred," whether or not he agrees with them, he said.

"If the city council felt it could unilaterally and with impunity overturn a bona fide election result, what other laws are they going to try to overturn?" Snider said. "They need to know citizens are watching them and willing to stand up against their illegal actions."

Bryon Taylor, who organized End Aurora BSL (breed-specific legislation), said his organization is against the ban on pit bulls but not necessarily because they are "big fans" of pit bulls.

Breed-specific legislation makes communities more dangerous by limiting responsible owner access to training, socialization and veterinary care, Taylor said.

A University of Denver study in 2020 assessed the effectiveness of the pit bull ban in Denver, showing that the city spent more than $100 million in enforcing the ban with little measurable impact on public safety.

While dog-bite numbers from pit bull-related breeds decreased throughout the duration of the ban, so did the number of all dog breed bites, according to the study, suggesting it wasn't related to the ban on pit bulls itself.

In Denver, pit bulls are legal only when residents have a breed-restricted permit. To get a permit, owners have to complete an application with proof that the dog is spayed or neutered, has a current rabies vaccine and a city license from the Denver Animal Shelter.

According to statistics from the National Dog Rescue Network and End Aurora BSL, most dog bites in the United States involve un-neutered male dogs across multiple breeds.

Instead of breed bans, Taylor said, responsible ordinances should encourage proper training, socialization, licensing and insurance of all dogs.

Aurora voters to decide whether to repeal ban on pit bulls (2024)
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