ABC News’ Matt Foster reports:
What do you do with 3,000 unwanted pit bulls?
Riverside County, Calif., just east of Los Angeles, felt forced to euthanize that many each year, according to John Benoit, a member of the county’s board of supervisors.
Now, the county is hoping an ordinance passed Tuesday that requires all pit bulls more than 4 months old in the unincorporated part of the county to be spayed or neutered will cut down on the number put to death.
“I think we’re a long way off before their image is changed and more people will adopt them – but our end goal is to reduce the attacks on people and reduce the amount of euthanized pit bulls,” Benoit told ABCNews.com.
Even so, some pit bull owners don’t think the new ordinance will solve the problem.
“Passing a fear-based law such as this one is only the beginning and opens up the door to an almost certain proposal of banning or killing pit bulls in this county,” said Riverside County resident Veronica Hernandez, the owner of a pit bull mix, at the public hearing discussing the ordinance.
She thinks punishing irresponsible owners is the solution.
Best Friends Animal Society, a national organization based in Utah, also objects to breed-specific legislation. Ledy VanKavage, a senior attorney for the group, said it supports spaying and neutering pets, but not making it mandatory for certain breeds. That, she said, would lead to more euthanasia.
“Some people can’t afford it, and if there aren’t free services,” VanKavage told ABCNews.com. “They’ll turn in their dogs and they’ll be euthanized.”
Best Friends Animal Society, much like Hernandez, supports reckless owner laws that specifically punish owners when their pets misbehave, VanKavage said.
Benoit believes the pit bull can be a dangerous breed, but he knows of people who train them well and can have the dogs in a family home.
“I don’t believe that attacks come from the average pit bull,” he said. “I think that’s a rogue number of dogs.”
Riverside County impounds about 3,500 to 4,000 pit bulls every year, including dogs who have been abandoned, ones whose owners were afraid of what they might be capable of, and ones found in fighting rings, according to John Welsh of the Riverside County’s Department of Animal Services
Welsh told ABCNews.com that 80 percent of the pit bulls impounded are not spayed or neutered. He believed the idea for an mandatory fixing was sparked by recent attacks in the area. A few weeks ago, for instance, a 2-year-old boy was mauled to death by his grandmother’s pit bull in the town of Colton, Calif., which is in the county next to Riverside.
“In general, animal control people have a strong belief that a fixed dog is less likely to bust through a fence and chase down a kid on a skateboard,” Welsh said.
Exempt from the forced fixing ordinance are law enforcement dogs, assistance dogs and licensed and registered breeders. It is very similar to a first-draft ordinance approved by another California town just last week.
Yucca Valley’s town council voted 5-0 to require pit bulls in the sparsely populated desert town to be spayed and neutered – and public support for the measure was high, according to the town’s Animal Care and Control Manager Melanie Crider.
“We only had one person opposed at the meeting,” Crider told ABCNews.com. “We’ve had a lot of incidents with pit bulls that haven’t really been in the news.”
From her standpoint, as someone who’s owned two pit bull mixes herself, it’s also not about trying to get rid of a breed that might be dangerous. It’s about the overcrowding problem she sees in her shelter.
“After they come in through the door, they’re hard to get back out the door. No one wants to adopt them,” she said.
Yucca Valley plans to offer solutions for pit bull owners who can’t afford the procedure for their dogs. The town will offer vouchers to help offset costs, and if an owner is caught violating the law, a 45-day grace period will give them time to spay or neuter their pet.
Back in Riverside County, Welsh said there are free surgeries owners can take advantage of. He thinks most people want to have the procedure done for their pit bull, but just haven’t gotten around to it.
“People are ultimately going to do what they wanted to do, it just takes a citation on their door to get them to do it,” Welsh said.
Going forward, Benoit wants to get the county’s mayors to think about passing ordinances of their own.
“I’m glad it’s been passed, and I think many in the county are ready to emulate it,” Benoit said.