L.A. County's dilemma: What to do about dangerous dogs

The fatal attack on a woman walking in the Antelope Valley community of Littlerock by four pit bulls last week has prompted Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich to ask the  county Department of Animal Care and Control to look into ways to better deal with the problem of vicious dogs prowling the streets.

Roaming dogs in general are a problem in the Antelope Valley, where the landscape seems to invite careless or even cruel behavior.

“People go out there and abandon their dogs in the desert,” Marcia Mayeda, the director of Animal Care and Control, told me. “They abandon horses too. We find them — skin and bones.”

People also sometimes let their dogs run loose, thinking that’s fine in a rather rural area. It’s not. Dogs should never be allowed to roam off-leash in neighborhoods. A pack mentality can set in if multiple dogs start roaming together, says Mayeda.

In the case of the Littlerock woman, the dogs that attacked her got away from the house where they lived.  

What Antonovich and Mayeda are looking into, among other things, is broadening the description of what constitutes a potentially dangerous dog. Right now, any dog that makes a person take a defensive action twice in three years, moderately injures a person or severely injures or kills another dog or cat gets classified as potentially dangerous. What the county may do is also label as dangerous any dog that severely injures or kills livestock, which includes horses, llamas, cows, pigs, even pet rabbits.

This too is an issue in the Antelope Valley and other semi-rural areas where people have horses and livestock and complain that dogs attack them. “We had a case of a pit bull chasing a horse for a mile,” Mayeda said.

It would be smart for the county to expand the definition of what constitutes a dangerous dog. Hopefully, the county can also step up enforcement by animal control officers and patrols of the area for dogs on the loose.

It’s unlikely that the county could institute any kind of ban on any kind of breed, including pit bulls. Few municipalities do that without running into legal problems and court battles. 

According to Mayeda, pit bulls are responsible for 56% of the 300 cases of potentially dangerous dogs that have been brought to Animal Care and Control since January 2012.   

The subject of pit bulls generates enormous controversy. Some animal advocates feel they have gotten a bad rap. Others believe they are simply beyond being pet material for anyone. Pit bulls that turn vicious can be devastatingly violent, as the horrific attack in the Antelope Valley showed.

But as I said last week in a blog post, not all pit bulls should be pets and not all people should be pit bull owners. But there are plenty of examples of loving pit bulls being raised by caring and committed owners.    

County officials are doing the right thing by concentrating on toughening the dangerous dog standard and looking to intensify enforcement. A spokesman for Antonovich called the issue of dangerous dogs on the loose a public safety crisis. I agree with that.

But it's not a problem just for the authorities to fix. Dog owners need to be responsible — not just about keeping their dogs in securely enclosed yards or on-leash but about spaying and neutering them as well. It's the law in the county and in the city of Los Angeles.

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