[nagdu] Iraq veteran's service pit bull thwarts ban, with help from feds

Ginger Kutsch gingerKutsch at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 7 13:12:17 UTC 2010

Iraq veteran's service pit bull thwarts ban, with help from feds
By Christopher N. Osher 
The Denver Post
Posted: 09/07/2010 01:00:00 AM MDTUpdated: 09/07/2010 
Veteran Glenn Belcher was prescribed a pit bull to help overcome
his disabilities after serving in Iraq. Denver originally told
him he could not have the dog in the city. (Diego James Robles,
The Denver Post)Glenn Belcher credits his pit bull, Sky, with
cutting down on the nightmares that come from his tour of duty in
Iraq during Desert Storm.
The dog steadies him as he goes up stairs. And Sky's soothing
presence has allowed Belcher to reduce the number of
antipsychotic drugs he used to take to one, down from four.
So Belcher was shocked when he moved from California to Denver in
2009 to learn that the dog a nurse prescribed to help him
overcome his disabilities was not welcome. Sky violated the
city's ban on pit bulls, and Denver officials told Belcher he
would have to move outside the city limits if he wanted to keep
the dog.
Now the city of Denver appears to be relenting, following new
advice from the U.S. Justice Department about how the Americans
with Disabilities Act should be interpreted.
The new federal regulation states that the act allows "any dog"
that is trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an
individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory,
psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability, to be
classified as a service animal.
"As far as the ADA, it's now pretty black and white, according to
what the U.S. Department of Justice has prepared," said Nancy
Severson, Denver's manager of environmental health services, the
agency in charge of enforcing the pit-bull ban.
"If it's a service dog, and they claim it's a service dog, and
the dog is providing the support for a disability, we will have
to honor that," she said.
A proposed ordinance that will get initial consideration Monday
would allow pit bulls certified as service animals in Denver. 
Belcher, one of three owners of pit bulls certified as service
animals who are suing Denver and Aurora, says it's about time.
He warned city officials last year they were discriminating
against him and his dog and making it impossible for him to
access public spaces. The dog has remained in Denver since
Belcher got a temporary restraining order against the city while
the lawsuit was pending.
"This breed has been hijacked by gangbangers and thugs and people
who don't know how to raise animals to begin with," Belcher said.
"There are no bad dogs, only bad owners."
The new law would amend a pit-bull ban Denver enacted in 1989
after the Rev. Wilbur Billingsley was attacked by a pit bull that
bit him 70 times and left him with two broken legs.
The ban, which was upheld in Denver District Court in 2004, is
deplored by many animal-rights activists but applauded by those
who say pit bulls can be violent.
Since 2005, the city has seized 3,186 pit bulls; 2,123 were
The new exemption could pose hurdles for officials trying to
crack down on problem pit bulls. If a person claims their pit
bull is certified as a service animal, city officials won't even
be allowed to ask to see the certification. 
"This does blow a big hole in the breed ban," said Councilwoman
Carla Madison, long a critic of the city's pit-bull ban.
Christopher N. Osher: 303-954-1747 or cosher at denverpost.com 

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