Citing public safety concerns and the need to bring the breed's population down, Riverside County supervisors today approved an ordinance mandating that, with only a few exceptions, pit bull dogs older than four months in unincorporated communities be sterilized.
"I've seen scores and scores of deaths and maimings of individuals of all ages -- all from pit bull attacks," said Supervisor John Tavaglione, who joined his colleagues in a 5-0 vote to enact the ordinance following nearly two hours of public testimony.
"A 2-year-old boy was pulled out of his bedroom by two or three dogs and mauled to death. His face was ripped off. An 8-year-old boy in Corona was out riding his bicycle recently and was attacked by two pit bulls that dug their way out of their owner's yard. That child is still in the hospital," Tavaglione said.
"People tell me they're frightened to walk in their own neighborhoods because of the presence of pit bulls. That's a horrible way to live. It's time to say enough is enough. Stop the process of killing and maiming. I'm tired of seeing people hurt."
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said he hesitated to support anything that smacked of outright "government intrusion," but found justifications for the ordinance "compelling."
"We have to try to find a solution," Jeffries said. "This is not an extermination order ... This is about addressing public safety issues."
More than a dozen people testified before the board, with passions running high on both sides of the debate.
"There is a positive side to the breed," said pit bull owner Carl Dixon. "The breed has been sensationalized by the media. Pit bulls right now are the hot topic. But keep in mind there are people out there trying to do the right thing."
Lake Elsinore resident Terri Armenta told the board her pit, "Louie," was the "gentlest, most lovable dog" she had ever owned. She said violence perpetrated by other pits is a direct consequence of "irresponsible pet ownership."
Josh Liddy, an area breeder, drew parallels between the ordinance and racial profiling.
"This is an effort to ban the dog," he said. "You shouldn't be scapegoating an entire group of anything."
Beaumont City Councilwoman Brenda Knight embraced the county ordinance, recalling two vicious encounters she'd had with pits. Knight submitted statistics amassed by a victims' advocacy group, DogsBite.org, indicating that of the 38 fatal dog attacks reported nationally in one year, 61 percent were perpetrated by pit bulls.
"These dogs are in the news because when they attack, the injuries can be catastrophic," Knight said. "This is a life-and-death issue. There is frustration and fear in the community."
County resident Linda Collingsworth told the board she had lost a loved one, a child, to a pit bull attack.
"I'm tired of hearing how many children and elderly people have been eaten to death," Collingsworth said, holding up poster-size pictures of victims. "There are too many other kinds of dogs that people can get as pets."
A representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lauded the board's effort, noting that a similar ordinance approved in San Francisco in 2007 had led to a dramatic reduction in the number of pit bulls impounded annually.
According to Department of Animal Services Director Rob Miller, pit bulls represent one-fifth of all canines impounded by the agency each year. Less than 10 percent of those dogs are adopted out, translating to a euthanasia rate that runs into the low thousands.
Under the ordinance, any pit bull over 4 months old would be required to be spayed or neutered unless an owner can qualify his or her animal for one of the following five exemptions:
-- the dog belongs to a registered breeder;
-- is trained for law enforcement duties;
-- is an "assistance dog" for a disabled person;
-- has been certified by a veterinarian as having a health defect that sterilization would aggravate; or
-- is in training and licensed in another county.
The Department of Animal Services defines pits as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Stafford Terriers "or any mixed breed which contains ... any one of these breeds so as to be identifiable as partially of one or more of these breeds."
A dog owner may request a "breed determination," which would require the county's chief veterinarian or a member of his staff to examine the animal. If the dog is designated a pit bull, an owner would have the opportunity to appeal the finding before a county administrative officer, or take the case to court.
Individuals who fail to comply with the ordinance would be assessed fines and penalties, according to county officials. Enforcing the ordinance
would occur when a dog is impounded or when it's brought in to be vaccinated, licensed or microchipped.
"This is a logical, reasonable, measured attempt to deal with this problem," board Chairman John Benoit said of the ordinance.
The measure will take effect in 30 days and will only apply to unincorporated communities, though area cities could choose to use the county measure as a model.
"I hope the cities follow our example," said Supervisor Marion Ashley.
"This is a good place to start." --City News Service