On Oct. 22, the Riverside City Council passed an ordinance mandating the spaying and neutering of pit bulls and pit bull mixes who are over the age of four months. The new law is a move to address increasing overpopulation and pit bull attacks, but will not apply to therapy and police dogs, registered breeders’ dogs, and dogs lacking the health needed to handle the procedure.
Pre-existing city regulations required the sterilization of nearly all dogs, however it was only enforced when the owners were cited for pet-related infractions, such as failing to obtain a pet license. A similar pit bull ordinance was approved by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 8, which led the city to follow suit.
Traditionally bred by crossing terrier-types and bull dogs, pit bulls have a history of gameness, endurance and territoriality. With the number of deadly attacks on the rise, local restrictions continue to target the pit bull-related cases. Recent accounts like the two-year-old boy mauled in Colton by five pit bulls and a 57-year-old woman who was attacked in Riverside’s first ward were cases cited by city council members and residents.
According to Dogsbite.org, “In the eight-year period from 2005 to 2012, pit bulls killed 151 Americans and accounted for 60 percent of the total (251) recorded deaths (from dog bites).”
Another driving force behind the ordinance was pet overpopulation. Pit bulls constitute 20 percent of the shelter dogs, and 30 percent of dogs that are euthanized, according to statistics released by the Riverside County Department of Animal Services. Riverside officials report that about 4,000 pit bulls were placed in shelters and 3,000 pit bulls were put down last year.
According to Riverside city councilmember Mike Gardner, “We are breeding them to die. It’s not fair to the animal, and it’s not fair to those who have to kill them.” If pit bulls are spayed or neutered, officials stated that they will have less of a drive to break out of their enclosure and roam into the streets.
Riverside native Clifford Duncan believed that Riverside officials ought to go a step further and ban pit bulls altogether. During the city meeting, he opined, “(They) are not needed, they do too much damage and they get away,” while showing old newspaper articles involving fatal pit bull attacks to nearby audience members.
Local residents Tina Prado, Amber Jones and Laura Chavez — opposed to the city ordinance — believed owners were at fault for the majority of cases. They all expressed common sentiment that, instead of forcing individuals to pay for spaying and neutering, bad owners of aggressive pets should be required to take dog training classes.
“There should be harsher penalties (for bad owners), while those who are responsible (owners) should get exemption,” said Chavez.
Perhaps the most polarizing statement of the night came from the opposition, when one woman claimed, “What’s happening here is you’re stereotyping animals based on a race, just like in Germany where they euthanized all the Jews.” Amid other statements, she held concerns such as the possible side-effect of inbreeding, which leaves pets vulnerable to a limited gene pool with a higher rate of health complications and deformities.
In reaction to the opposing statements, council members stressed that they are not eliminating the breed. They are seeking preventative measures to reduce future dog attacks while enforcing harsher penalties for owners who fail to actively train and manage their pets. A standard 1-year license may be purchased for $16, which will allow individuals to legally breed pit bulls.
Riverside council members approved the new law as a necessary first step, but expressed interest in taking further action one day. “Responsibility cannot be left with the dog,” said Gardner.
The city’s ultimate aim is to enforce laws that ensure dangerous dogs are secured in their enclosures. Seeing how the sterilization of animals does not completely solve this dilemma, there will be a continued concern about such issues moving forward in the future.