Voters might get to decide whether pit bulls can legally live in Denver

The polls could be the venue to settle the heated debate once and for all.

Zelle the pit bull was set to be transferred out of the Denver Animal Shelter, Jan. 17, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Zelle the pit bull was set to be transferred out of the Denver Animal Shelter, Jan. 17, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

They’ve been illegal in Denver for over 30 years. But this past winter, city council repealed the ban on pit bulls, only to be outranked by Mayor Michael Hancock, who vetoed the decision. The council barely failed to override his veto with a super-majority.

Now the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Chris Herndon, wants city voters to decide.

City council’s governance committee will consider a ballot measure to repeal the ban. If the measure makes it to voters and they OK it, dog owners would need to get a special license for a pit bull so the government would know where they are and who’s responsible for them. Households could have up to two pit bulls, according to the bill’s draft language.

Elected officials banned the dog breed in 1989 after a pit bull killed a three-year-0ld child. The city government killed about 100 of the dogs in the months following the decision, according to a 1989 Denver Post article. Since then, the debate has been fiery, pitting animal rights advocates against people who are worried about their safety.

Locals who live in neighborhoods where complaints about the breed are highest don’t necessarily have a united opinion on the pit bull ban or its repeal, a Denverite analysis found.

Council members will hear a presentation on the bill during the governance committee meeting Tuesday. If they advance the measure to a full legislative vote and it passes, city voters will see the question on their November 3 ballot.

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