Thursday, March 17, 2011

With changes in service animal rules, Colorado towns reconsider pit bull ban


DENVER -- Changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the use of service animals have Denver and Aurora officials reconsidering bans on Pit Bulls.

Attorneys briefed key city leaders about a federal lawsuit that will likely mean both cities will have to make changes to ordinances banning the breed.

A few months ago, disabled protesters from around the country demanded Denver and Aurora drop their pit bull bans

"It's hard that I cannot take her places in fear of having her taken away and killed," said Sarah Carey, who uses a pit bull as her service dog.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs must include any dog, regardless of breed, that is trained to assist any disabled person.

"I would never hesitate to get another pit bull as a service dog," said Patty Fairchild, who requires a service dog. "They're smart, they're loyal, and they are protective of their owners."

Fairchild had two pit bull service dogs, but she now lives in Lone Tree, where the breed is banned.

"This isn't about the breed of dog; this is about people with disabilities and their choice. Their choice to use whatever appliance it is that helps them the best with their disability," said Attorney Jennifer Edwards, with the Animal Law Center. "That's what we're challenging here."

Edwards filed the federal lawsuit against Denver and Aurora, which is expected to be heard by a judge later this year. She says the law is very specific.

"Are you disabled, yes or no? And what task is your dog trained to perform? That's it," Edwards said.

With changes in the disability law, attorneys for both Denver and Aurora are now studying exceptions for banned breeds, when those breeds are used as service dogs, and both city councils are expected to revisit the issue.

According to Edwards, "There's been discussion of them determining this on a case by case basis and they simply cannot do that the way that they are suggesting."

Because of the pending litigation, city officials would not talk on the record about the issue.

In the meantime, it is unlikely people like Patty would have their Pit Bulls taken away.

An announcement about the lawsuit is expected as early as this week.