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Shores Up Regulations but Decides Against Curbs on Pit Bulls : W. Hollywood Adds Bite to Canine Ordinance

August 20, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Motivated by numerous recent canine attacks, the West Hollywood City Council put more bite into its dog-control laws Monday.

But it backed away from imposing special rules on pit bulls and their owners after fanciers of the much-publicized breed argued that such action would be unfair.

"Do you think that by restricting a certain kind of animal you're going to solve the problem?" asked Renee Johnson, president of the Golden State Pit Bull Club. "You're not. You have to go after the irresponsible owners."

As proposed by Mayor Alan Viterbi, the ordinance would have required pit bull owners to pass background checks much like those intended to keep handguns out of the hands of lawbreakers.

Owners of the feisty breed also would have been required to buy $50,000 worth of special insurance, house their dogs behind a fence posted with warning signs and keep them muzzled when out for a walk.

"Although we live in a dog-eat-dog world, the new West Hollywood ordinance will have enough teeth to respond to the recent rash of vicious dog attacks," Viterbi said in a press release.

"This is not necessarily a direct response to the rash of recent attacks, but those cases did highlight the problems that exist," he said at Monday night's meeting.

But after hearing testimony from Johnson and others, the City Council voted 4 to 1 to drop any mention of the pit bull, at least until the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors acts on the issue.

"I don't like the focus on one breed," council member Steve Schulte said. "It seems very broad to me."

"A kid could be maimed just as easily by a German shepherd," council member John Heilman said.

Viterbi cast the dissenting vote.

Instead, the council approved a general ordinance that defines a dangerous dog as one that has bitten a human being or another domestic animal without provocation or has been inclined to do so.

In such cases, animal control officers will be able to impound vicious dogs of any breed and have them destroyed if they prove to be incorrigible.

These rules are similar to those that won preliminary approval last month from the Los Angeles City Council and the supervisors, said George Baca, chief deputy director of the county's Department of Animal Care and Control. West Hollywood contracts animal control services from Baca's agency.

Baca said the supervisors are not expected to mention any breed by name in the final version of their legislation.

Paul Koretz, Viterbi's aide, said there may be as many as 50 pit bulls in the city but there have been no reports of violent attacks such as those that occured earlier this year.

In the most dramatic attack, a Los Angeles city animal control officer was mauled in June when she arrived at a home in Glassell Park to investigate an incident in which two people were badly bitten.

According to figures supplied by the Humane Society of the United States, pit bulls account for only 2% of the nation's dogs, yet are the culprits in more than 62% of fatal attacks by dogs.

Since 1983, pit bulls have killed more people than all other dog breeds combined, Koretz said.

A self-declared dog lover, Koretz reassured pit bull enthusiasts after the City Council debate that he has nothing against the breed in general.

"I never blinked an eye when my five-pound bichon frise went to obedience school together with four pit bulls," he said. "That's because of the wonderful care given by owners who treat them as pets."

Originally bred for bear-baiting in 13th-Century England, the breed known as the Staffordshire bull terrier became what is commonly known in the United States as the pit bull.

The typical pit bull weighs 35 to 65 pounds and has jaws that can exert up to 1,500 pounds per square inch. It is noted for not giving up once it attacks.

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