His battered face smiling at the attention, a badly abused pit bull walked free last week from the city’s animal shelter, destined for a new life in New Jersey.
The case of the dog named Stallone marked one of the few times in recent years that the city’s oft-criticized ban on pit bulls stepped to the forefront of local municipal mumblings — a far cry from the days when the city instituted the ban in 2006 over the howls of pit bull advocates.
But that quiet is likely to go away as opponents of the ban renew their calls for change, and at least one city council member floats a full repeal of the ban.
“I’m planning to bring it back this spring,” said Councilwoman Renie Peterson.
Peterson has been a critic of the city’s ban for years. In 2011 she pushed a repeal, but the measure didn’t get enough votes to pass council.
Still, that last effort saw the city amend the ban so it includes only three breeds — American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terrier. Those are the breeds most commonly referred to as pit bulls.
Peterson said that with council warming to idea of backyard chickens in recent months, she’s hopeful they’ll also be willing to scrap the city’s ban on pit bulls.
“I’m thinking that now is probably the time to bring it back,” she said. “It’s all about how you treat an animal, it’s not the breed of animal, it’s the owner.”
Since the ban took effect in early 2006, 1,158 dogs from the restricted breeds have been destroyed in Aurora. The ban allowed for dogs already living in Aurora when the ban took effect to be “grandfathered” in if the owners met a handful of requirements.
Those requirements included paying a registration fee — which was $200 per year when the ban started, but has since been dropped to $125 per year.
In that first year, there were about 500 pit bulls registered with the city, but the number has steadily dropped since.
The ordinance requires the city to track data regarding the ban, including the number of pit bulls killed and the number impounded.
Since the measure took effect, the number of dogs destroyed because of the ban has dropped steadily.
In the first year of the ban, the city killed 636 pit bulls, but the number dropped to 173 the next year. So far this year, 43 dogs have been killed. In all, the city has destroyed 1,158 dogs as a result of the ban, and animal control officials say the majority of those are dogs that were stray, unclaimed injured or ill animals.
When the ban became law, there were about 500 registered pit bulls in the city, but the number dropped to just 90 last year.
The number of restricted breed citations has also dropped, from 222 in 2006 to just 34 so far this year.
City records show that the number of reported dog bites in Aurora has remained the same for about 10 years, about 200 per year, but the number of bites from restricted breeds has gone from about 30 a year to less than 10.
A 2010 study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora reported that mixed breeds and Labrador retrievers are the cause of most human bites, which correlate to their popularity among dog owners. Proponents of restricted breed bans point to national studies showing pit bulls account for a large proportion of dog-bite fatalities.
While the ban has always had some very vocal critics — council meetings where the ban is discussed are often some of the best attended — the issue has hardly been a hot one politically.
During the recent city council election, the ban on pit bulls barely came up.
“In the whole campaign for my re-election, I don’t recall it coming up at all,” said city Councilman Brad Pierce, who was re-elected to an at-large seat on council.
Pierce backed the ban when it was passed in 2006 and said he still supports it. Certain breeds should be restricted because they are simply more dangerous than others, Pierce said.
“There just seemed like a lot of instances where particular breeds of dogs were either biting people or other dogs. I thought at the time and think now that its a good ordinance to have,” he said.
And, Pierce said, if dog owners pay the registration fee and take the necessary precautions, they are welcome to keep their dog.
“It’s not like we are making people get rid of their dogs, they can keep them,” he said.
But the ban still has its opponents, something evidenced by a small crowd that rallied before Stallone’s court hearing at Aurora Municipal Court last week.
Juliet Piccone, the lawyer who represented Thomas Beard, the man who was transporting Stallone from Arizona to New Jersey when the dog attacked, said bans like Aurora’s are bad policy.
“Breed bans don’t solve the problem that they are trying to address, which is irresponsible owners or dog bites or dog attacks,” she said.
What cities need instead are laws that address all breeds and call for responsible dog owners, she said.
“They all have to play by the same rules, and they all have to be accountable,” she said.
Piccone said that wasn’t the case with Stallone. While the dog attacked a much smaller dachshund Oct. 26, pinning the little pooch named Misty to the ground and horrifying its owners, that wasn’t the crime Stallone’s caretaker was charged with.
Instead, when animal control officers arrived at the dog park, they charged Beard with a single count of violating the city’s breed ban. He wasn’t charged with having a vicious dog or even violating the city’s leash law.
“I am 95 percent sure that a golden retriever with the same sweet demeanor as Stallone would have gone home on a home quarantine and would not have been impounded,” she said.
In Stallone’s case, the pooch stayed locked up in the city’s impound for almost two weeks.
Piccone has stressed that she isn’t defending what Stallone did, and has admitted that her client made a boneheaded move when he brought a dog as badly abused as Stallone to the dog park. But, she said, the breed ban meant that Stallone found himself in far deeper trouble than a different breed would have.
Peterson said she expects council meetings to take on the raucous atmosphere that dominated previous pit bull debates when she proposes repeal next year.
“I think when I bring it back up we are going to have the same kind of thing,: she said. “And council is going to think I’m a headache.”