In Riverside County, animal control officials said pit bulls account for… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
The speakers became emotional as they stood before the Riverside County supervisors, telling them about their encounters — both positive and negative — with pit bulls.
One woman talked about Louie, her beloved pit bull she dresses up each Halloween. Another sobbed as she tried to talk about her pit bulls, who compete in shows.
But as county officials weighed an ordinance that would mandate the sterilization of pit bulls, they also heard from a Beaumont city councilwoman who had tried to stop a pit bull attack and could not forget the smell of blood that lingered. And the grandfather who held up local newspapers with headlines about recent incidents in which children were mauled.
"Every time I open up the newspaper, there's another attack," Clifford Duncan of Riverside said. "I have grandchildren. I don't want to see it in my neighborhood. What can we do to protect them? This is exactly what we can do."
The supervisors agreed, voting unanimously in favor of the ordinance Tuesday. In approving the measure that requires pit bulls in unincorporated areas of the county to be spayed or neutered, they cited recent attacks and the large number of the dogs being euthanized in county shelters.
"It's time to say enough is enough," County Supervisor John Tavaglione said. "I'm tired of seeing innocent people hurt."
The ordinance is similar to several already passed around the country — most notably, in San Francisco — that require the dogs to be sterilized to help curb the population. Advocates for such ordinances say pit bulls crowd shelters and are less likely to be adopted, especially as they get older.
But supporters of the dogs contend that pit bulls have been unfairly targeted, maligned by sensational media coverage.
"It makes all our dogs guilty until proven innocent," said Josh Liddy, a pit bull advocate.
In Riverside County, animal control officials said pit bulls account for 20% of the dogs in their shelters and 30% of the dogs euthanized. A pit bull isn't a breed but a collection of breeds that includes the Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier and American Stafford terrier. The mandate applies to dogs mixed with those breeds.
The ordinance, which takes effect in a month, prohibits residents of unincorporated areas from owning unaltered pit bulls older than 4 months. The ordinance allows exceptions for animals owned by registered breeders, used by law enforcement or as therapy dogs, or that have been cleared by a veterinarian because of a specific health issue.
Officials also agreed to an exemption for show dogs if their owners have proof they compete.
The ordinance, which did not include additional funding for animal control officials, will be enforced by a team of about 10 inspectors already at work canvassing neighborhoods and checking to see if dogs are licensed. Violating the ordinance is considered a misdemeanor infraction, and offenders will be fined.
"If one life can be spared through this ordinance," Supervisor Jeff Stone said, "it's one life worth saving."
Some contended the ordinance should have a scope broader than pit bulls, similar to rules in place in Los Angeles County. L.A. County has what the American Veterinary Medical Assn. says is one of the toughest laws on pet sterilization in the country, requiring that most dogs and cats in unincorporated areas be sterilized at 4 months.
Animal advocate Jackie Ficarotta, who came to the Board of Supervisors meeting from San Bernardino County, said abandoned dogs have become a problem throughout much of the Inland Empire.
"That should be for every dog, including Chihuahuas," she said of the ordinance. "Something has to be done about the people who own these animals. They're irresponsible people. They don't care."