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Would Riverside's pit bull-neuter proposal cut down on dog bites?

The Riverside County Department of Animal Services would like to the county's board of supervisors to authorize a spay-and-neuter ordinance that would require the owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes in unincorporated areas of the county to sterilize their dogs. The goal, in response to recent stories of people sustaining devastating dog bites, is to cut down on the chance that the large, muscular dogs will hurt others.

But would that actually help? Pit bulls, of course, are in the news a lot. Many people believe they are more dangerous than other dogs, and Farmers Insurance announced in February that it will no longer provide dog bite riders on homeowners insurance for people who own pit bulls, Rottweilers or wolf hybrids, because these large dogs cause more serious damage when they bite, even if they don't bite more often than smaller dogs.

Two recent dog attacks caught the attention of Riverside County officials. In January, an 84-year-old woman in Jurupa Valley was attacked by two pit bulls when she was out getting her mail. In February, a pair of pit bulls attacked a 91-year-old woman from Desert Hot Springs, who did not survive the attack.

"The feeling that we are getting from the county leaders is, enough's enough," said a Department spokesperson. "They get upset ---- especially when an 84-year-old grandma gets mauled by two pit bulls."

Opponents of the measure point out that it's not the dogs themselves but irresponsible owners who are the problem. Pit bulls make up a disproportionate number of dogs in shelters, and evidence owners of pit bulls are apparently less likely than other dog owners to sterilize their animals. As the Department spokesperson pointed out, 80 percent of stray pit bulls they pick up are unsterilized.

Pit bulls aren't naturally more aggressive than other dogs, studies have shown. In fact, California state law actually prohibits breed-specific ordinances, except those pertaining to sterilization. However, the sense that they are "tough" may contribute to their popularity among people who are more likely to train them poorly -- or worse, train them for fighting.

One Riverside County supervisor, who represents a large unincorporated area, will be focusing on the facts. "I'm going to be asking animal control to produce some stats that affirm pit bulls are unique, and uniquely dangerous compared to other dogs, to justify that government intervention is necessary," he told reporters.

"I'm always a little leery about government coming to the rescue. If they can justify it, so be it," he added. "But if they just don't like pit bulls, well, that's not enough."

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, "Mandatory sterilization for pit bulls?" David Downey, April 5, 2013

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