After several recent, highly publicized pit bull attacks on people in Southern California, two of which were fatal, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously passed legislation requiring all pit bulls in the unincorporated areas of the county to be sterilized. The ordinance applies to pit bulls older than 4 months. Dogs owned by licensed breeders, canines used by law enforcement and therapy dogs are among the animals exempted.
The supervisors said they acted out of concern for public safety — a Riverside County woman was hospitalized after being attacked by two pit bulls in August — and because so many pit bulls languish unadopted in the county's public shelters. Riverside officials estimate that of the 4,000 pit bulls that were sheltered by the county last year, 3,000 were euthanized. About 30% of the dogs euthanized in their shelters each year are pit bulls and pit bull mixes, official say.
For years there has been a debate over just how much danger these dogs present to the public and other animals. Pit bulls long enjoyed a reputation as loyal family dogs (despite the fact that they had historically been bred to fight other dogs — but to obey their human handlers). Then criminals and gang members began using them — and misusing them — as guard and attack dogs. Plenty of pit bulls live quietly and without incident with their owners. Yet the tragic stories of fatal maulings underscore the damage these dogs are capable of inflicting with their powerful, tenacious bite.
Riverside went with the "pit bulls are a danger" theory. But it didn't have to. What the county supervisors could and should have done was to pass a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance affecting pet dogs and cats of all breeds, as both the city and county of Los Angeles have done. The Riverside County Department of Animal Services already encourages its residents to spay or neuter their pets and offers low-cost sterilization surgeries for dogs and cats at two locations in the county.
According to the department's statistics, Riverside County shelters euthanized 4,813 dogs between the beginning of January and the end of August; approximately two-thirds of them were not pit bulls. The goal of sterilization ordinances should be to reduce the population of all unwanted dogs and cats, not just those with controversial reputations, so they don't end up relegated to shelters or euthanized.