Pit bulls as service animals: Denver quietly changes its policy

Categories: Politics

Thumbnail image for benny the pitbull cropped.jpg
For more than two decades, Denver has tenaciously defended its pit bull ban. Years of lawsuits, protests and bad press have done nothing to unmoor Denver's political leadership from their conviction that this particular breed of dog is far too dangerous to allow within city limits.

No exceptions... until now.

A recent motion filed in federal court reveals that the city's animal control division has quietly decided it will no longer enforce the anti-pit bull law in cases where the dogs are being utilized a service animal for a disabled person. On April 5, Director of Animal Care and Control Doug Kelley issued an order changing the division's official policy. From now on, animal control officers "will not immediately impound a pit bull that is identified as a service animal by the owner."

In the past, animal control employees were required to confiscate any dog they suspected was more than 50 percent pit bull. This prompted an ongoing class-action lawsuit from a group of disabled people who use pit bulls as service animals and argue that Denver's blanket breed ban violates their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their case got a huge boost from new federal rules that say local governments cannot use breed-specific laws to prevent a disabled person from accessing a service dog of their choosing.

pit bull puppy.jpg
A pit bull puppy.
This prompted months of oftentimes combative statements from city council members and Mayoral candidates defending Denver's anti-pit bull law from what they characterized as federal bullying. A bill that would have provided a service animal exemption into the city's breed ban ordinance was shot down in committee. Aurora, which also has a breed ban law, is struggling with the service animal issue, too.

It appears that Kelly's behind-the-scenes policy change is an effort to shield elected officials from having to vote on the pit bull issue while at the same time making the city right with the ADA and potential future litigation.

If an animal control officer encounters a pit bull that is being used as a service animal under the new procedure, they can ask two questions: 1) If the animal is required because of a disability, and, 2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Animal control can still seize and impound the pit bull if it displays aggressive behavior, "such as attacking and/or biting another person."

At first glance, this new policy appears simple. But, like everything involving the pit bull ban, Kelly's attempt at compromise will likely lead to unintended consequences.

The document appears to establish a whole new set of proceedings for determining if particular pit bulls are up to snuff as service animals. It allows authorities to open an investigation to "verify or disaffirm an owner, keeper, or possessor's claim that their pit bull is qualified as a service animal." Officials are instructed to examine pit bull's past behavior, if it is socialized to "tolerate strange sights, sounds, odors," and if it can "ignore food on the floor or dropped in the dog's vicinity while working outside the home."

There is no nationwide standard for training and certifying service animals. The City and County of Denver doesn't test or license service dogs, so why would it establish a quiz for pit bulls? What will these tests look like? If a dog fails, can owners appeal? How are Denver's animal control employees qualified to judge service-animal training? These are all questions that disabled rights advocates will certainly be asking.

Regardless, Kelley's policy change is striking for longtime observers of Denver's controversial breed ban. For the first time in 22 years, a city official is acknowledging in writing that behavior and training are the most important factors in determining if a dog is inherently dangerous or capable of caring for the most vulnerable in our society. Breed, not so much.

Page down to read the policy-change document.



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26 comments
Victoria Rowepr
Victoria Rowepr

im crying my eyes out.  what kind of evil people would vote a law into affect that murders people's dogs??????????????????????????????????????????????? just because they are part pit bull??????????????  nothing to do with their behavior at all.  nothing.  MURDERERS IN DENVER POLITICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Smarock10
Smarock10

Justice will never have been served until SCUM like Hinklehooper,Kelley and Nelson are roaming free and not behind bars where they belong.

snowbird04
snowbird04

I refuse to visit Denver. I fly in and out to visit friends, but will not spend a dime in Denver. We travel out of town to have fun! I wouldn't live in, work in, or spend money in a town that still discriminates after all the proof that pit bulls is due to its owners, rather than the breed

R. A. Capell
R. A. Capell

Federal ADA pretty much did not change this part of Title II

"§ 35.103 Relationship to other laws.

(a) Rule of interpretation. Except as otherwise provided in this part, this part shall not be construed to apply a lesser standard than the standards applied under title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the regulations issued by Federal agencies pursuant to that title.(b) Other laws. This part does not invalidate or limit the remedies, rights, and procedures of any other Federal laws, or State or local laws (including State common law) that provide greater or equal protection for the rights of individuals with disabilities or individuals associated with them."

ADA People are afforded "Greater Protection Under the Laws". The Federal Government should step in and make all Cities Obey State Dangerous Dog Laws and Abolish BSL.....

Ljelly
Ljelly

Kudos to Kelly I suppose, at least is is trying to educate the ignoranr ! Denver still needs to pull its head outta its ass and educate themselves on the breed and REMEMBER its the DEED NOT THE BREED !!!! If they dont have a systme for training dogs how can they possibly judge them ???

Teri D.
Teri D.

This "Policy Change" is pure smoke and mirrors by Doug Kelley and Denver City Council. City Council is hoping the disabled community as well as the anti-BSL community are foolish enough to believe that Denver is now ADA compliant. Denver's proposed "testing" of pitbull service dogs beyond what the ADA permits is flat out illegal. But guess what? Now we have headlines such as this one making it appear that Denver is now ADA compliant. Denver has not amended its ordinance. What Denver has done is change one illegal policy to another ostensibly more palatable one. But guess what? It's a policy change! Even if it were a good policy change it's just that--a policy change. Policies, of course, can be changed according to the whim and fancy of those who establish the policies! It's not time to break out the party hats and start tossing confetti. Denver is still looking down the barrel of numerous lawsuits now and in the future.

Stephanieelizabeth
Stephanieelizabeth

A tiny step forward. Denver, when will you repeal this stupid ban?

Jeanie Blacksher
Jeanie Blacksher

Its about time. These dogs are gentle and and protective unless trained otherwise. I don't own a pitbull, but have been privileged to know some beautiful animals of more than one friend. You couldn't find a sweeter pet when you love them!

Mcelhannon Carol Ann
Mcelhannon Carol Ann

Why do humans tend to make blanket statements and decisions about animals? I trust a lot of pit bulls more than I do a lot of people I know! There are animals in all species who are quote unquote a bad seed or have a lousy disposition, and we don't automatically label the entire breed as vicious or violent. What about humans with violent vicious tendencies and lousy attitudes? We don't keep most of them out of society. I love pit bulls and have never even been growled at by a totally strange dog who's never met me. Most of the time that they are mean is because stupid humans have trained them to be mean and have seriously abused them in the process. How dare Denver or any other city try to take away pit bulls from their owners?

morrigan
morrigan

sooo...a pit bull living with a disabled person is now ok, but if the same pit bull was living with a non-disable person, that dog would be deemed "dangerous" and seized. that's awesome logic, denver. how about getting rid of the ban all together, eh? BSL is a joke.

TeamPitAFull
TeamPitAFull

Jared...how come when ever Denver is in hot water or in an odd position... your ALL OVER IT? God Bless you brother.Ok, so we have service dogs back in Denver soon. Next Stop? A full repeal.

R. A. Capell
R. A. Capell

"It appears that Kelly's behind-the-scenes policy change is an effort to shield elected officials from having to vote on the pit bull issue while at the same time making the city right with the ADA and potential future litigation."

Yeah you wouldn't want to commit Section 1983, Section 1985 and Section 1986 violations like Aurora has already done.

SumCommonSense2
SumCommonSense2

Denver has adopted a policy that puts them in compliance with federal law. How noble of them.

Monika Courtney
Monika Courtney

The "officials" in charge ought to undergo rigorous training in recognizing canine character other than a threat if the animal reacts different than what their oftentimes lazy or ignorant assessments are. Dogs will be subjected to one-sides, biased judgement, which can be yet another doom for them. I find it despicable how so many people declare themselves to be dog shrinks with skills to "examine" and assess an animal, when in fact they do nothing but pressure their own perspective and judgement onto an animal, that most time is just fine and not a threat at all. This is the excuse that is applied in too many shelters in this nation... label a dog as "fearful", "aggressive" and whatever suits the purpose to get rid of it - and the system allows this convenience labeling and killing. Many dogs are perfectly fine, yet they get triggered into a reaction so to suit the "opinion" of some self-appointed wanna be expert who solely has to much power to abuse instead of true knowledge of canines.

R. A. Capell
R. A. Capell

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/in... "Civil Applications

Title 42, U.S.C., Section 14141 makes it unlawful for state or local law enforcement agencies to allow officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or U.S. laws. This law, commonly referred to as the Police Misconduct Statute, gives the Department of Justice authority to seek civil remedies in cases where law enforcement agencies have policies or practices that foster a pattern of misconduct by employees. This action is directed against an agency, not against individual officers. The types of issues which may initiate a pattern and practice investigation include:

Lack of supervision/monitoring of officers' actions;Lack of justification or reporting by officers on incidents involving the use of force;Lack of, or improper training of, officers; andCitizen complaint processes that treat complainants as adversaries.Under Title 42, U.S.C., Section 1997, the Department of Justice has the ability to initiate civil actions against mental hospitals, retardation facilities, jails, prisons, nursing homes, and juvenile detention facilities when there are allegations of systemic derivations of the constitutional rights of institutionalized persons.

Report Civil Rights Violations

File a Report with Your Local FBI OfficeFile a Report over Our Internet Tip LineVisit Our Victim Assistance Site"

R. A. Capell
R. A. Capell

Also does this mean that now Mr. Grider no longer has to Muzzle his dog when he walks out in Public? Why are you limiting his freedom of movement by requiring Mr. Grider to have Precious Muzzled when walking?

R. A. Capell
R. A. Capell

You can give Greater Protection then the ADA does but you are not allowed to give Lessor Protection. By adding this so called TEST, you violate that person's ADA Rights. Also there still needs to be a Color of Law FBI Investigation on everyone who acting under the color of law or ordinance violated Mr. Griders rights by seizing his ADA Compliant and FHA Compliant Service Animal.

EmilyS
EmilyS

Since the ADA regs specifically state that no certification is needed, why does Doug think that HE can establish some criteria beyond the ADA regs? He's going to have his unqualified ACOs test the service dog by dropping food in front of it? Ability to ignore food is obviously a very smart thing for ANY dog to be trained for... but it is not a criteria for a service dog.

Selwyn Marock
Selwyn Marock

Sick people Voted this SCUM into power now Decent Humans must VOTE them out.

sruasonid
sruasonid

Exactly right, Teri. The language of the ordinance remains in place - INCLUDING the language prohibiting the transport of a pitbull through the city of Denver (even in an enclosed, locked vehicle) - despite the fact that Denver was ordered by a federal court to remove that language WAY BACK IN 2006. And this "testing" stuff is so illegal it's shocking that they would even consider it, much less attempt to enforce it. It's painfully obvious that this is NOT compliance with the ADA, but rather a strategy to keep the ban in place, and additionally ensuring they will never face litigation on this issue again.

Here's how that works: I predicted in December when they voted to defy the ADA that Denver was planning to launch a bid to change the entire law about service dogs in general - and it appears I was spot on. Their ultimate goal is to cause laws to be enacted changing the entire structure of the ADA with respect to the use of service dogs by disabled persons, including training, choice of breed, "testing," licensing, where they can live, go, etc. Unfortunately, this will effectively deprive many, many disabled people of the assistance of service dogs, as the cost will become too prohibitive; especially for the majority who are already surviving on a pittance from social security and medicaid/medicare (and, if they are lucky, food stamps and housing assistance) - ah, but wait - these, too are going to be taken away from them by Congress. Once again, the most vulnerable among us will suffer for the ignorance, arrogance, and cruelty of the few.

Jeanie Blacksher
Jeanie Blacksher

Hey, Morrigan, with all the prejudice against the breed, let's be thankful someone is giving these wonderful animals some rights. I know its hard to take, but we have to be thankful for every baby step in our beauacracies.

Tarintay
Tarintay

Monika, may I quote you on my blog? If I read your post correctly you are saying that it's all in the training. My brother rescued an American Pitt from a railroad track, and he had been abused....Buster was the sweetest, smartest dog I ever had the pleasure of being around. I have a golden and a cocker. The golden, at the age of 10 we now call the Humanator, but she get's too excited at an old folks home, (lack of training on our part) the cocker is just clueless (again, lack of training...) American Pitts, Pitt mixes etc.. are all trainable. Even Boxers...They are smart as can be. It just takes time and patience. Please let me know. - Tari at tarintay@aol.com

Hutcinson_jessica
Hutcinson_jessica

Actually, it is criteria for a service dog. Service dogs must not sniff food, shelves or people. They must not eat food off the floor or solicit attention from people. The test they are describing here is the PAT, otherwise known as the public access test. Every service dog is tested using this test.

sruasonid
sruasonid

See my response to Teri below. This is part of a strategy to force a change to the ADA regs, resulting in the requirement of certification of service animals. They've been working on this for some time now. Sad.

EmilyS
EmilyS

I dunno... I can't disagree that various councilmembers have made strong statements opposing the ADA regs and proposing outright defiance of them. But I'm a bit skeptical that it's part of an organized scheme to overturn the regs. Considering that the regs were recently clarified and went through the whole process of public comment.. and as far as I know, Denver did NOT submit comments... I don't think it will work, even if it is a plan

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