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Torrance Sidesteps Pit Bull Ban, Votes Tough Regulations

July 16, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

With pit bull fanciers protesting that city officials wanted to do to their dogs what "Hitler tried to do to the Jews," the Torrance City Council bypassed proposals to bar the breed from the city and opted instead for an ordinance toughening regulations against all dangerous animals.

"The problem is not the breed," Councilman Dan Walker said. "The problem is with the irresponsible owner."

The ordinance, which passed 6 to 1 Tuesday, appears to be stronger than the one passed June 30 by the Los Angeles City Council and another approved Tuesday in draft form by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Those ordinances permit authorities to impound a dog after the first bite.

Torrance ordinance, which includes the same provision, also permits city officials, after a hearing, to order the destruction of any animal that has a history of attacking people or animals without reasonable provocation whether or not the attacks include biting.

2 Alternatives Rejected

In voting for the ordinance, the council rejected two alternative ordinances drafted by the city administration--an outright ban on keeping pit bulls in Torrance and a ban on licensing new pit bulls, with dogs now licensed permitted to remain.

The new ordinance, which does not single out pit bulls or dogs, expands the definition of dangerous animal in the city code to include any animal that has harmed other animals or people or shows a likelihood to do so.

The code permits the destruction of "dangerous animals." The ordinance provides a hearing procedure, held by the city's Environmental Quality Administration, to determine whether an animal is dangerous.

Monte McElroy, the city's environmental quality administrator, said in an interview that a key part of the new definition of dangerous animal includes the notion of an unprovoked attack. "You can't just say because the dog seems aggressive that you are going to put the dog to sleep. That is just not going to happen," she said.

Definition Called Vague

Previously, a dangerous animal was defined in the city code as being one that had bitten a person.

Only one council member, Tim Mock, opposed the ordinance, saying its definition of dangerous was too vague. City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer said in an interview after the vote that determining whether an animal would be classified as dangerous would not always be an easy matter.

The ordinance also gives city officials new powers to revoke dog licenses or reissue them subject to conditions to protect the public if owners are negligent. McElroy said this provision might apply where a dog is loose frequently.

The municipal actions come amid a wave of public concern about widely publicized reports of aggressive, at times fatal, attacks by pit bulls.

In Torrance, the issue was raised by Cor Van Diepen, who lives in the 2300 block of El Dorado Street. On Aug. 12, 1986, Van Diepen told the council that a pit bull from his neighborhood killed his pet dog and, in a separate incident, his wife and child were threatened by a pit bull and its owner.

"My wife was walking to the market with my child, and somehow she got a pit bull riled up," said Van Diepen, who came to the council meeting to argue for a pit bull ban. He said the pit bull's owner, who had the dog on a leash, grabbed the dog's collar and informed his wife that pit bulls have killed children.

"Is it going to take the death of one of our kids to ban the pit bulls?" he asked.

In its report to the council, the administration presented a brief history of the breed and statistics on the popularity of pit bulls in Torrance and attacks by them.

Originally bred for bear baiting in 13th-Century England, the Staffordshire bull terrier became the basis for the breed in the United States, which today typically is a 35- to 65-pound dog with jaws that can exert up to 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, according to the report.

"The present-day pit bull, because of the centuries of breeding for fighting characteristics, is an animal which is notorious for continuing a fight no matter how severely it is injured," the city report said.

The report cited figures compiled by the Humane Society of the United States showing that pit bulls account for only 2% of the nation's canine population "yet are the culprits in over 62%" of fatal dog attacks. In 1986-87, dogs killed 16 people in the United States with 10 of the deaths caused by pit bulls.

In Torrance, 142 pit bulls and 84 pit bull mixed dogs were licensed in 1986-87. There are 14,500 licensed dogs in the city with an unknown number of unlicensed dogs.

Between May, 1984, and April, 1987, the city reported nine attacks by pit bulls, beginning with a pit bull on the loose that bit a small child and a jogger and chased a girl delivering newspapers. The most recent incident involved an unleashed pit bull that killed a neighbor's cat.

'Whole Thing Is Stupid'

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