Denver Ballot Measure 2J: A First Step for Restoring Dog Owner Rights

2020-10-28 | AKC Government Relations Department

For over 30 years, the City of Denver has banned the ownership of “pit bulls” in the city – a policy that has punished responsible dog owners and innocent dogs in the city for decades. 

During this election, Denver voters have the opportunity to vote on a ballot measure that will scale back this ban by allowing “pit bulls” in the city with restrictions and special licensing.  While not ideal, if passed, it would be a step forward in removing the arbitrary ban that focuses solely on a dog’s appearance, rather than any negative or dangerous actions. 

Why is this on the ballot?

Numerous attempts have been made over the years to repeal the breed ban in the city.  An official study published in 2019 by the University of Denver estimated that the ban has cost the city over $100 million since 1989, and that animal control officers conduct on average over 6 breed-identifications each week.

Local media have reported a variety of abuses of the law. In one case, a cranky neighbor called animal control claiming their neighbor’s poodle was a pit bull just so they would be investigated.  Another story talks about a resident’s ex-partner calling animal control to report they owned a “pit bull mix” puppy, which resulted in the owner and city officials having to go through breed identification and hearings. 

In early 2020, the city passed a measure that would have repealed the ban but implemented several new regulations.  This was then vetoed by the mayor, and the veto override failed by one vote.  The University of Denver study said that approximately 25 percent of Denver residents say that the ban makes them feel safer.  This fear of what might happen if the ban is repealed has led to city council measures continuing to fail. 

Responsible dog owners advocates did not give up, however, and in August the city council decided to put a measure on the ballot to let the residents decide whether they wanted to keep the ban in place. 

What does the ballot measure do?

City Ballot Measure 2J asks the question: “Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance authorizing the city to grant a provisional permit to owners or keepers of a pit bull, provided the owner microchips the animal and complies with additional requirements set by Denver Animal Protection?”

A “no” vote would leave the current law and ownership ban in place.  Voting “yes” would remove the ban and implement several new regulations, including:

  • New breed-specific “pit bull” permits: Owners of American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American pit bull terriers would be required to obtain an annual “breed-restricted” permit and keep no more than two “pit bulls” in a residence at any time. 

    If an owner does not violate any portion of the city’s animal control laws for 36 months, then the city may allow the owner to apply for a regular dog license and no longer require the annual breed-restricted permit.

  • Inspections of permit holders: Animal control may inspect the dog and premises “at reasonable times, with reasonable notice” to determine sanitary and health conditions.
  • Other requirements: These would include mandatory microchipping and providing animal control with the names of two persons who may be contacted about the dog in case of an emergency.

You may read Ballot Measure 2J in its entirety and view arguments for and against the proposal in the official City of Denver Local Ballot Notice booklet (scroll to page 44).

What is AKC’s position on breed-specific laws?

The AKC does not support breed-specific laws. Instead, we advocate for laws that focus on a dog’s actions, rather that on its appearance.  We believe all dog owners should be held accountable for the actions of their dogs – regardless of the breed or type of dog they choose to own.  Breed-neutral dangerous dog laws are more effective in protecting the safety of city residents and do not punish responsible dog owners or cause unnecessary expenditure of tax-payer funds.

Unfortunately, even if Ballot Measure 2J passes, it will still require breed identification and other unnecessary drains on animal control and city resources.  However, AKC appreciates that the breed permit can be removed after a period of time, and that the outright ownership ban would be repealed.  We hope that at some point the city will completely repeal its breed-specific laws and instead enact laws that enforce responsible dog ownership and protect community safety, while still allowing owners to choose the dog that is right for their family and lifestyle—regardless of breed.

For more information, be sure to visit the Breed-Specific/Dangerous Dog laws Key Issues page in the AKC Legislative Action Center.  This provides model legislation, talking points, and more information on this issue.  You can also view an online webinar that provides more detail on breed-specific laws, AKC’s position, and the history of the breed ban in Denver.   

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