BREED SPECIFIC Legislation moved a step closer in California on Monday of this week when the State Assembly passed legislation allowing cities and counties to create local spaying and neutering requirements for specific breeds of dogs.
Under current state law, municipalities cannot enact breed specific dog control but after dog attacks allegedly led to the death of a 12-year-old San Francisco boy and the injury of an 8-year-old Santa Rosa girl, local officials, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, began seeking authority to pursue their own laws.
The bill does not allow local jurisdictions to ban specific breeds, but it does allow cities to require that certain breeds be spayed or neutered. In effect, this is Breed Specific Legislation by any other name.
Although the Bill has the support of some animal rights groups, including the ASPCA, it has also been opposed by anti-BSL campaigners, who say that spaying and neutering will not alleviate the problem of attacks, and that policies should not be made by municipalities on a piecemeal basis.
Animal control officials have testified in support of the measure, claiming as many as 70 percent of dog attacks involve unspayed or un-neutered animals.
The measure, AB861 by Senator Jackie Speier, (Democrat, Hillsborough), passed the Assembly on a 54-19 vote, with eight Republicans splitting ranks to join Democrats in passing it. The measure must also be approved by the Senate before it will be sent to State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.
San Francisco — where 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish was allegedly mauled to death in June by a family pit bull — is poised to become the first part of the state to approve such an ordinance.
However, police investigation into Nicholas’s death are ongoing and doubt has been passed on the initial findings, as evidence has now emerged that the boy may have died as the result of a blow to his head. Despite this new evidence, politicians in favour of Bill AB861 have cited Nicholas’s death as a good reason to enact BSL.
"It's time to get rid of these pit bulls. I think we ought to string 'em all up, send them to some other state." - Assemblyman Tim Leslie
While some cities, including Denver, Colorado have banned ‘pit bulls’ – a generic term for Bull breeds and crossbreeds - California is one of a handful of states that prohibit cities and counties from singling out specific breeds for regulation. This did not change even after Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old lacrosse coach, was killed by two Presa Canario dogs in San Francisco in 2001, despite political pressure for BSL to be enacted.
"This Bill will make a huge difference in the cities and counties that elect to adopt," ordinances, said Jennifer Fearing, president of United Animal Nations, a Sacramento-based animal protection group. But, she added: "It's definitely not a complete answer to the dangerous problem. It does not address what's motivating people to create dangerous dogs in the first place."
Forty-seven people have died from dog bites in California between 1965 and 2001, the most in the nation, according to a task force Newsom appointed to deal with the problem. The task force said pit bulls and then Rottweilers caused the most deaths in one 20-year period, followed by German Shepherds, Huskies, Dobermanns, Chows, Great Danes and Saint Bernards. However, this data has been disputed and refuted by the anti-BSL group American Canine Foundation (ACF) which has said it will mount a legal challenge against the new law, which it claims is unconstitutional.
Carl Friedman, director of San Francisco's Department of Animal Care and Control, said backyard breeders sell pit bulls for $400 to $600 each, but the dogs often end up in the dog pound.
"We just can't find homes for them, and they're being euthanised," he said.
"The problem we have is not with our dogs but with our dog owners," said Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (Republican, Thousand Oaks), who backed the ACF line of ‘punish the deed, not the breed’. "There are a significant number of dog owners who abuse their dogs and condition them to fight and become vicious. Those people are the culprits."
Others said the measure did not go far enough. Assemblyman Tim Leslie (Republican, Tahoe City) played the redneck card and summed up just how thoughtful some politicians can be when considering the matter of dog control and BSL: "It's time to get rid of these pit bulls," said Assemblyman Leslie. "I think we ought to string 'em all up, send them to some other state."