Federal judge dismisses pit bull suits against Denver and Aurora

Pit bull owners who use their pets as service dogs won’t be allowed to challenge pit bull bans in Denver and Aurora, Colorado.  A federal judge in Denver has thrown out lawsuits that claimed the cities put illegal restrictions on pit bulls as service dogs.  In their lawsuits, plaintiffs alleged that the cities didn’t follow federal law, but the District Court judge ruled that both Aurora and Denver had done enough to allow the pit bulls as service dogs.

Denver and Aurora originally banned pit bulls, even as service dogs, but  then altered their rules after a 2011 federal ruling.  While both cities allow pit bulls as service animals, Aurora still maintains a policy that requires owners of pit bulls to follow more restrictions than service dogs of other breeds, claiming the restrictions are meant to protect others from the animals.  In Denver, law enforcement officers are “essentially told to look the other way” when they encounter the animals as service dogs, but the city otherwise bans pit bull-type dogs.

Jay Swearingen, a lawyer for the Animal Law Center who represented the plaintiffs, said that while he respects the judge’s ruling, he disagrees with it.  He says it is a fact that pit bull service dogs are treated differently than other dogs, and their owners run into more issues than the average person with a non-pit bull service dog. Swearingen said this is a relatively new area of law, and he cited a ruling by a judge in Iowa that held for the disabled plaintiff and his pit bull service dog, but did not go to trial (Sak v. City of Auriela). 

The plaintiffs in the Colorado cases, Allen Grider and Glenn Belcher, are war veterans, and Valerie Piltz, who is a UKC judge.  Aurora took Grider’s pit bull mix away in 2009 for more than a week. Grider, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, then had to keep his dog at a friend’s house outside the city for several months.  Belcher, a Persian Gulf War vet, suffers from depression, anxiety and other physical disabilities and needed his dog.  Ms. Piltz was visiting the Denver area to judge in a UKC show.  She was able to secure a temporary permit to have her two pit bull service dogs in Aurora, where the competition took place, but not from Denver, where she was staying with her sister.

The city attorneys for Denver and Aurora issued statements advising they were pleased with the  dismissal of the cases, and the Court correctly determined that none of the plaintiff’s were harmed by the cities’ ordinances.

According to Attorney Jay Swearingen, plaintiff’s plan to appeal the ruling.


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