Denver's pit bull ban stays on books after veto override falls short

Denver's City Council approved overturning the ban, the mayor vetoed that and the override vote fell one vote short.

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By Phil Helsel

Denver’s pit bull ban remains on the books after the City Council failed Monday to get enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.

The Denver City Council earlier this month voted 7-4 to pass the bill that would repeal the law that prohibits residents from keeping pit bulls within city limits, something that's been illegal since 1989.

But Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed the bill.

On Monday, the City Council voted 8-5 to override that veto. It needed nine votes to overturn the veto.

Hancock has said that he could not in good conscience support the effort to overturn the ban.

"If this were to become a law in our city and harm comes to someone as a result, then we would have done a disservice to the people of Denver," Hancock has said in announcing the veto, according to video from NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver.

Supporters of removing the ban said that studies show that breed-specific legislation does not work and that pit bulls do not bite people at greater rates than other kinds of dogs.

The group Replace Denver BSL said that "fear won tonight — but we will win tomorrow."

"We are devastated and angry and ready to keep fighting the good fight," the group said.

Denver’s pit bull ordinance was enacted in 1989 after 20 people were attacked by pit bulls between 1984 and May 1989, according to a history of the law published in 2005 by Korey A. Nelson, assistant city attorney for the Denver City Attorney’s Office.

One of those 20 people attacked in that span included a 3-year-old who was fatally attacked in October 1986.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ban in 1991, according to that history.

"Here's a reality: Irresponsible pet owners continue to be a problem, and it is the irresponsible owners and their dogs I must consider in evaluating the overall impact of this ordinance," Hancock said in explaining his veto.

Under the new proposal, owners would have been required to apply for breed-restricted licenses, register their pit bulls with Denver Animal Protection and provide proof that the dogs have been microchipped, received rabies vaccinations and been spayed or neutered.

An owner would have had to notify Denver Animal Protection within 24 hours if the dog died and within eight hours if it escaped or bit someone.

If there were no incidents after three years, pit bull owners could apply for regular dog licenses. The revised policy would also have limited owners to two pit bulls per household.

City Councilman Chris Herndon has said that he would try and get a measure overturning the ban on the November ballot, the Denver Post reported.