Not so fast.
Aurora City Council members pulled a bullying bait-and-switch scheme last week, taking a bite out of common sense and their own credibility.
For over a year, the city has been agonizing over a comprehensive reworking of its animal and pet regulations.
The city has held focus groups, study groups, surveys and gone over every word of Aurora’s animal control ordinances.
In November, Aurora lawmakers pushed through a new bill that was touted by all because it worked to better track unruly and dangerous dogs and ensure they were either successfully restrained by their owners, or removed from the city.
What city lawmakers didn’t do in November is end the city’s 15-year-old ban on pit bulls.
From the day it was enacted, the measure has been controversial. The controversy has paralleled the national debate about the wisdom, and success, of banning certain dog breeds associated with injuring people or other pets.
After years of controversy and sporadic pit-bull attacks in Aurora, the pit-bull ban was sent to voters for ratification in 2014. Voters overwhelmingly supported upholding the ban.
By leaving a slightly modified version of the pit bull ban in the revamped animal control law, proponents of a new ordinance garnered solid support from the city council when it was adopted on Nov. 2.
But last week, a group of city lawmakers suddenly proposed not just ending the pit-bull ban, but doing it without going to voters.
The move is devoid of reliable evidence, and it smacks of charlatan politics.
The problem with the pit bull debate is mostly one of semantics. Even as the Aurora ban was created, it was clear there was no solid evidence showing that pit bulls as a breed were “more dangerous” than other breeds in that they were more likely to attack people or other pets. What was indisputable was that in Aurora, across the state and across the nation, the most horrific attacks were caused by pit-bull-like breeds.
In Aurora, lawmakers listened to hours of testimony from people who were seriously maimed by pit bulls. Most pit-bull victims were injured or killed pets.
Just as Aurora was preparing to vote on whether to uphold the city ban in 2014, a particularly violent attack made headlines.
A 10-year-old dachshund was killed by a pit bull inside a convenience store in Englewood. The dachshund was on a leash, inside the store, and its owner was in a powered scooter. The pit bull had escaped its nearby owner’s yard and spotted the little dog through the glass door of the convenience store. Somehow, the pit bull got inside, grabbed the dog, dragged it and the owner in her scooter, still hanging onto the dog’s leash.
It was a horrifying, bloody attack. Despite several people screaming at the pit bull, then pouring hot coffee on it, then pouring scalding water on it, then hitting it with a piece of lumber, the pit bull would not relent. It killed the dachshund and would not let go of it. Compelling are these unique stories involving how dangerous these dogs are when they attack, and how their attacks differ from those of other dogs.
There were numerous of them like that in Aurora. Pit bulls busting through screen doors to kill a small dog being walked in front of its house. A pit bull mauling the arm on a child.
The argument has never been about some dogs being potentially dangerous, it’s been about preventing lethal attacks that are too often associated with certain breeds.
That’s where reliable experts and associations have come forward. The problem has always been identifying what is and isn’t a pit bull, eventually drawing on often inconclusive DNA tests. And the bigger problem has been with enforcement.
But the argument has also been awash in pseudo-science from animal aficionados, often employees of animal care or rescue centers, not scientists, not researchers. They are no substitute for solid research.
It is ludicrous for proponents of ending the ban to say that dog breeds are not associated with dog behaviors. Any real expert understands that the very nature of diverse dog breeds comes from hundreds of years of people working to capitalize on various breed behaviors.
What’s unclear is why some breeds, associated with what most people refer to as pit bulls, are connected to such serious and lethal damage when they attack. It is not disputed that they are capable of such carnage, and that more extreme cases over the past several years were associated with pit-bull like breeds.
Aurora, like many cities, rushed to create laws and inadvertently created problems in identifying these animals and restricting them. What the public was told during the past year is that the comprehensive animal control law passed in November works to remedy that, in conjunction with the ban.
City lawmakers should first let the new law and regulations take effect before sneaking in additional regulations, which might have squelched support for the larger ordinance. At the very least, city lawmakers should hold off on unilaterally killing the measure and allow voters to decide the issue, just like they did last month in Denver.
There have been cursory surveys about dog ban preferences in Aurora. Those are no substitute for scientific polls and certainly no excuse to do an end run on the undeniable preference of voters just six years ago.
The most consistent story told by owners of pit bulls who attacked and maimed people or other pets, is about how surprised they were at the dog’s violent and unexpected behavior.
No more surprises. Pull back on ending the ban.