City lawmakers uphold Aurora’s ban on pit bulls

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AURORA | City lawmakers turned back a proposal to repeal Aurora’s ban on pit bulls in lieu of forcing owners of the controversial dogs to carry big liability insurance policies.

City Council informally voted down measure at a study session Monday that would repeal the 9-year-old  ban but would require owners of the three prohibited breeds— American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers—to carry $100,000 for liability coverage in homeowners or renters insurance for the dog. City lawmakers agreed to send the measure back to a city council committee to make possible revisions. It’s unclear what legislation might look like when it returns to a  city council study session later this month.

“Since the ban has been in place, bites are down 73 percent from pit bulls,” said Cheryl Conway, a spokeswoman for the city’s animal care division.

She described various problems the city encountered before enacting the ban in 2005 that included irresponsible owners letting the dogs run at large, and owners using pit bulls to taunt pedestrians.

She added that the dogs placed a tremendous burden on city staff. According to city documents, before the ordinance was enacted in 2005, up to 70 percent of kennels in the Aurora Animal Shelter were occupied by pit bulls with pending court disposition dates or with no known owner.  That number is now only 10 to 20 percent of kennels.

“There hasn’t been a human mauling in many years. Complaints and requests related to pit bulls are down 50 percent. Euthanasia of pit bull dogs is down 93 percent. Of those few that are put down, they are primarily those that come in as strays and their owners don’t come to claim them,” she said.

She said six of the eight municipalities that ban pit bulls in Colorado abut Aurora, and a repeal would result in pit bulls being relocated to Aurora.

Bob LeGare asked why Rottweiler’s and German Shephards, dogs that have also been studied and considered dangerous, were not included as part of the ban.

“It was the severity of the (pit bull) bites that prompted staff research and council action,” said Nancy Freed, deputy city manager.

Proponents have long argued that all dog owners, not just breeds should be held to the same standards.

“I’m convinced repealing with the safeguards that are in here—the $100,000 of insurance, and making the owner responsible—is the way to go,” said City Councilwoman Sally Mounier.  “It shouldn’t be breed-specific. It should make the dog owner responsible.”

But critics say that an insurance award isn’t the same as justice when someone is injured or killed by a dog.

“If some kid gets mauled by a pit bull, $100,000 is not going to make that situation whole,” said Councilman Bob Broom. “We’re listening to the people who are adamant about this subject, not to the people in the community. Put it on the ballot in November and let the city-at -large determine if they want to repeal this ordinance or not.”

Advocates for pit bulls who couldn’t fit into the study session space poured into the lobby and watched the meeting on TV. Around 40 of them later filtered into council chambers to express their concerns with the breed-specific legislation.

Juliet Piccone, a lawyer who has represented several clients cited for having a banned breed, said after the study session that it was a positive sign that 4 out of 10 council members supported the repeal.

“In the next couple of weeks while they revise the language of the ordinance, and they beef up the vicious dog ordinance, I think we can get the votes we need to repeal it,” she said.

Jennifer Bryant, an Aurora resident of Ward VI and community outreach director for ColoRADogs, said the ban does not protect Aurora residents.

“There’s a message being put out that the responsibility relies on the dog and the truth is we need to keep all owners accountable regardless of what breed their dogs are.”

About 50 other cities around the country have lifted their ban in recent years, according to figures from Aurora Animal Control. Still, more than 500 cities around the country and several other nations still ban certain breeds.

The ordinance will be revisited in an Aurora Public Safety committee meeting Tuesday, according to city staff.

Brandon Johansson contributed to this report.