Disability Law

Judge says 2 cities can maintain pit bull bans that accommodate service animals


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Two Colorado cities have done enough to accommodate the disabled owners of pit bull dogs that are also service animals, a federal judge in Denver has ruled.

After a 2011 federal court decision that found flat-out bans of the entire breed violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city of Denver and nearby Aurora have amended their laws concerning pit bulls. Denver essentially instructs its enforcement officers to treat dogs identified as service animals as if they were not pit bulls. Aurora still maintains special restrictions on the breed, but not to an extent that prevents their owners from making appropriate use of the animals, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger held in a July 25 opinion (PDF) granting the cities’ motion to dismiss for lack of standing on the three plaintiffs’ part.

Although the three plaintiffs—two military veterans who live in the area and a dog-show judge who travels there occasionally—say they are now fearful their pit bulls will be confiscated, among other issues, Krieger found the three have not alleged “any real and immediate threat of future injury.”

The Associated Press and the Denver Post have stories.

Lawyers for the two cities said they are pleased with the ruling, but a lawyer for plaintiffs Glenn Belcher, Allen Grider and Valerie Piltz said his clients will appeal.

“It’s the fact that their dog is treated differently … than if it were a golden retriever,” said attorney Jay Swearingen of the Animal Law Center, explaining the basis of the discrimination suit. “They run into more issues than the average person with a non-pit-bull service dog.”

Breed-specific dog bans are controversial even when service animals are not at issue. Opponents say they are unduly broad, unfairly punishing owners based on a biased perception of the breed rather than focusing on the relatively small number of owners who have failed to control their animals, regardless of the breed. However, proponents say that pit bulls were originally bred to be used in dog fights, making them more dangerous than, say, golden retrievers bred to bring back birds shot down by a handler without injuring them further.

The American Bar Association has taken a position in favor of “breed-neutral” laws concerning dangerous dogs and reckless owners.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Nuisance or Necessity? ADA Suit May Overturn Pit-Bull Bans”

Updated on Aug. 6 to include ABA position.

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