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Gazette Premium Content Judge tosses 2 Colorado pit bull lawsuits

The Associated Press- Published: August 4, 2013

DENVER — Pit bull owners who use the animals as service dogs won't be allowed to challenge pit bull bans in Denver and Aurora.

A federal judge in Denver has thrown out lawsuits claiming the cities put illegal restrictions on pit bulls as service dogs, The Denver Post reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/147RRw3 ).

While both cities allow pit bulls as service animals, Aurora maintains a policy that requires owners of pit bulls to follow more restrictions than service dogs of other breeds. The city says its 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 the animals.

In their lawsuits, users of pit bull service animals said the cities didn't follow federal law.

But U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger ruled late last month that Aurora and Denver had done enough to allow the pit bulls as service dogs.

Jay Swearingen, a lawyer for the Animal Law Center who represented the plaintiffs said he plans to appeal.

"It's the fact that their dog is treated differently ... than if it were a golden retriever," Swearingen said. "They run into more issues than the average person with a non-pit-bull service dog."

Denver and Aurora originally had banned pit bulls, even for service dogs, but altered their rules after a 2011 federal ruling.

The lawsuits were combined into one.

Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash, in a written statement, said the city was pleased about the court dismissal of the case.

"We believe the court correctly determined that none of the plaintiffs were harmed by Denver's ordinance or animal control policies," he said. "Denver has and will continue to respect the rights of individuals with service animals."

Aurora City Attorney Charlie Richardson said the ruling was a fair one considering the changes the city made after the 2011 ruling by the federal government that updated regulations to the Americans with Disabilities Act clarifying the definition of a service animal.

"We are gratified the judge recognized that Aurora made some significant modifications to the original complete ban," Richardson said.

War veterans Allen Grider and Glenn Belcher, and Valerie Piltz, a dog-show judge, sued the city several years ago.

Aurora took Grider's pit bull mix away in 2009 for more than a week. Grider, who says he 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, said he suffers from depression, anxiety and other physical disabilities and needed his dog.

Piltz was visiting the Denver area to judge in the United Kennel Club Dog 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.

Swearingen said this is a relatively new area of law and cited a ruling by a judge in Iowa that went in the opposite direction. He noted that neither case made it to trial.

"The judge made a ruling on the law," he said. "Naturally, we respect the judge's ruling, but we disagree with it."

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