After a rash of deadly pit bull attacks throughout the Inland Empire, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a measure Tuesday requiring all pit bull owners to spay or neuter their animals or face fines.
In the last five years, pit bull attacks have killed four people in the county, including a 2-year-old San Bernardino boy who was mauled in May by one of the family's two pit bulls — named Taliban — and a 3-year-old Apple Valley boy who died after a similar attack in January.
"It's an imminent issue that we felt had to be addressed because of the recent attacks,' " Supervisor Neil Derry said.
Under the ordinance, owners of pit bulls or pit bull mixes would be required to spay or neuter dogs more than 4 months old. Owners who fail to do so would face a $100 fine for the first offense and more severe fines for subsequent offenses. A final vote on the ordinance, considered a formality, is scheduled for July.
For owners suffering financial hardship, the county will provide vouchers to help pay for the procedures.
Along with the two deaths, four other vicious attacks by pit bulls have been reported in the county since January. In April, three young children walking to a Fontana park with their mother were attacked by five pit bull mixes that escaped from a backyard. The children survived, but one suffered a punctured lung and the others suffered serious bite wounds.
"This year alone, we've had two human deaths, and four deaths in five years, because of pit bull attacks. No other death has been attributable to any other breed,'' said Brian Cronin, chief of county animal care and control.
Of the 686 reported dog bites in the county in the 2008-09 fiscal year, 137 involved pit bulls, Cronin said.
Pit bull breeds account for 20% of the dogs being housed in county animal shelters. Because they are the least likely breed to be adopted, 77% of those dogs — about 1,300 animals — are euthanized a year, he said.
The ordinance provides exemptions for some licensed dog breeders and pure breeds, including American pit bull terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers, recognized by the American Kennel Club and other national dog registries.
That offered little comfort to Jaime Padilla of Apple Valley, who shows his pit bulls at competitions across the West. He arrived at Tuesday's meeting with a picture of his dog Gordo on his T-shirt, telling the board that many of his dogs would have to be neutered or spayed under the ordinance, and that would disqualify them from competitions.
"I have no kids — these are my kids,'' said Padilla, who moved to San Bernardino County from La Puente in part to have the freedom to raise his dogs.
Ed Shepherd of Rialto, who owns dogs of the American bully breed, criticized the ordinance for punishing responsible dog owners and breeders. Many of the owners responsible for the attacks abuse or fail to properly care for their dogs, he said, adding that such people already ignore licensing requirements and will likely do the same with the spay-and-neutering law.
"The real problem is the yokel down the street with a hole in the fence,'' Shepherd said. "This isn't going to stop those people."