Appellate court revives Denver pit bull lawsuit |

Appellate court revives Denver pit bull lawsuit

P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Opponents of a Denver ordinance that calls for euthanizing pit bulls found living in city limits have another chance at challenging the law in court.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday revived a lawsuit filed by three former Denver residents who moved out the city to avoid losing their dogs. A federal judge had dismissed their lawsuit in March 2008.

Denver banned pit bulls in 1989 after dogs mauled a minister and killed a boy in separate attacks. After years of legal challenges, the city began enforcing the law in May 2005.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court said the residents could proceed on their claim that Denver’s breed-specific prohibition is irrational.

Opponents of the ban claim Denver lacks evidence that pit bulls pose a threat to public safety or constitute a public nuisance. They argue that the same canine organizations used to set standards for establishing whether a dog is a pit bull also describe the breeds as stable, friendly and good with children.

A message left at the Denver’s city attorney’s office was not immediately returned.

“The vast majority of dogs killed under this law haven’t done anything wrong,” said Karen Breslin, an attorney who argued on behalf of the former residents. “There are dogs out there that do pose a danger, but killing dogs just for how they look? How stupid is that?”

At least 1,100 dogs had been killed under the law when opponents filed the lawsuit in March 2007.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sonya Dias and Hillary Engel, who said they were forced to move out of Denver because of the pit bull ordinance, and Sheryl White, whose dog allegedly was seized under the city ban.

“My dog is a big old dork,” Dias said of her copper-colored pet, which has patches of black and white and is named Gryffindor. Dias rescued Gryffindor from a Georgia dogfighting ring in 2004.

“I think they’ve gotten a bad name because it’s the perception that it’s gangbangers’ dogs, and they’re not,” Dias said.

Pit bull typically describes three kinds of dogs ” the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. But Denver’s ban applies to any dog that looks like a pit bull.

The appellate court upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of a claim that the law is vague and did not rule on the merits of the opponents’ remaining claim that singling a specific breed is irrational.

The Legislature passed a law in 2004 that prohibited breed-specific bans, but Denver sued and a judge ruled in April 2005 the law was an unconstitutional violation of local control.

Other cities have banned pit bulls, including Aurora, Commerce City, Lone Tree, and Pueblo. Other cities have beefed up vicious-dog ordinances without singling out pit bulls.