By Alex Distefano
Recent news reports across the country, and in Southern California, of pit bulls attacking, injuring and in some cases killing people (and pets) has sparked a fire of concern and controversy in Riverside County.
On Tuesday, Sept. 24, Riverside County supervisors scheduled a public hearing, regarding whether to require mandatory sterilization for pit bulls in unincorporated communities, by drafting a public safety ordinance.
Further elaboration, discussion and input from the community will be sought in regards to the proposed ordinance, which would require pit bulls older than four months to be sterilized. According to statement by the Department of Animal Services, the local ordinance would “protect the public’s health and welfare from irresponsible owners of pit bulls by mitigating the over-population of unwanted pit bulls.”
Just last month, a toddler was mauled to death by five pit bulls in his backyard in Colton, where his grandma and uncle were supposed to be watching him. Two-year-old Samuel Zamudio was viciously mauled in a backyard of a home on Citrus Ave. His 42-year-old grandmother, Eustalia Zamudio and 23-year-old Uncle Marco Zamudio have been arrested and charged with child endangerment resulting in death, with other possible charges pending upon investigation. All five of the dogs have been euthanized.
Last May, a jogger in the Antelope Valley was attacked and killed by several vicious pit bulls in the suburban community known as Littlerock. In June, a pit bull mastiff attacked a man, and back Feb., two pit bulls killed a senior citizen in Hemet.
Combine this with recent news reports from the Bay Area and Oregon, where children have been attacked, as well as news stories from New York, Tennessee and Georgia where pit bulls have attacked smaller dogs. People are up on edge when it comes to pit bulls.
Critics of the proposed forced sterilization ordinance in Riverside County say it would unfairly target a breed, and that a dog’s behavior always depends on the owner. They feel that pit bulls are unfairly given a bad name.
Some Inland Empire veterinarians even suggest the law might cause backlash, with the possibility of making pit bull owners who don’t want their animals sterilized, more inclined to stay off the radar. If the ordinance should pass, these owners might be less willing to seek medical attention, training or even licensing for their pets. Despite this, the supervisors agreed (5-1) to hold a public hearing on the matter on Oct. 8, in Riverside.
Under the proposed measure, any pit bull over four 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: Pit bull belongs to a registered breeder at the time the ordinance; was enacted; pit bull is trained for law enforcement duties; pit bull is an “assistance dog” for a disabled person; pit bull has been certified by a veterinarian as having a health defect that sterilization would aggravate; or pit bull is in training and licensed in another county.
In its proposal, the Department of Animal Services defines pits as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and 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 pet. If the dog is designated a pit bull, the owner would have the opportunity to appeal the finding before a county administrative officer, or take the case to court.