Legally Trying To Get Around Pit Bull Ban

Service Dog Owners Suing To Amend Denver, Aurora Pit Bull Bans

A gray 75-pound pit bull is making Denver's pit bull ban not so black and white.

Sky is a service dog for Army veteran Glenn Belcher. Belcher suffers from anxiety and a stress disorder from serving in the Gulf War. He uses Sky as his service dog.

"He's my companion and he's my best friend," said Belcher. "I need help up and down stairs at times. He carries my medications for me."

Sky wears a yellow vest with the words "Service Dog." Other than that, you may not know he was anything but a pit bull.

"When I do walk him, I never walk him without his packs," said Belcher.

Belcher moved to Denver from Palm Desert, Calif., where Sky was legally allowed in the city. Denver has banned pit bulls since 1989.

"The (American with Disabilities Act) states that you cannot discriminate against a person because of the breed of their animal," said Belcher.

"It would seem to me that it would be as simple as amending this law," said Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Animal Law Center.

The Animal Law Center has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Denver, Denver's animal control director and the city of Aurora on behalf of three pit bull dog owners who have felt discriminated against because the cities' bans.

Edwards was able to get Denver and Aurora to agree to a temporary exception for the pit bulls of both Belcher and another client. That stipulation expired on Monday, even though the class action lawsuit won't be heard in court until June 28. Belcher now fears Sky could be picked up by Denver animal control.

"When the stipulation was going, I would take him to restaurants, I would take him to the grocery store with me and everything," said Belcher. "Now I'm back to house arrest."

"Now that we've made the jurisdictions aware that this problem exists, (we hope) they'll do the right thing and they'll sign an extension on this order."

"We will always comply with the specifications of the American with Disabilities Act or ADA," said Denver animal control director Doug Kelley.

Belcher told 7NEWS that he's been approached by animal control at least twice.

"It's not unusual when somebody's walking a pit bull or has a pit bull in the city that we'll get called by someone concerned about that," said Kelley. "If it meets the standards of what a service animal is, then it's allowed."

7NEWS has discovered there is no standard for a service dog. It's basically the honor system.

Assistance Dogs International has minimum requirements for the training of service dogs, but there's no organization that oversees any of those requirements. Those requirements include:

  • Must respond to commands 90 percent of the time on the first ask
  • Demonstrate basic obedience skills (sit, stay, lie down)
  • Must be trained to perform at least three tasks for client's disability
  • "There are very, very restrictive questions that can be asked of people about their service animal. You can ask very, very limited questioning on the training of the animal," said Edwards.

    "We can ask what function that animal serves," said Kelley. "We're not allowed or we will not ask any questions about a person's affliction."

    According to Freedom Service Dogs in Englewood, there is no state certification needed for service dogs in Colorado.

    "A service animal is just an individually trained animal that is there to help someone with a disability that prohibits them from life tasks," said Edwards.

    Service dogs don't even have to be professional trained. According to Belcher, he and an outside trainer have taught Sky to be a service dog.

    7NEWS asked Denver animal control if a pit bull were allowed to be exempt from the city's ban, and then it attacked, would it be treated as any other pit bull or animal.

    "It would have to be, yes," said Kelley.

    According to the Animal Law Center, eight communities in Colorado have pit bull bans: Aurora, Castle Rock, Commerce City, Denver, Fort Lupton, Lone Tree, Louisville and Wellington.

    Some of you may wonder why Belcher doesn't just move to a city that legally allows Sky.

    "Why should I have to move from Denver? I served my country," said Belcher.