In Denver and Miami, pit bulls and pit bull mixes are flat-out banned. In San Francisco, pit bulls must be spayed or neutered. In one Florida city, officials have proposed requiring pit bull owners to carry extra insurance.
Based on the recent fatal mauling of a beloved pet by a pit bull, Lodi may join the trend of cities toughening their animal control ordinance. Jennifer Bender, Lodi Animal Control supervisor, has proposed ordinance changes, though those changes aren’t being publicly released until review is completed by the city attorney.
Any changes would ultimately go to the Lodi City Council for approval, according to Deputy City Attorney Janice Magdich.
Currently, a dog in Lodi is the subject of a vicious dog hearing if it bites a human twice. That hearing could result in the animal being euthanized.
Pit bulls are the cause of 60 percent of dog-related fatalities, and so far this year, 13 of the 14 people who have been killed by dogs in the U.S. were killed by pit bulls, according to DogsBite.org, an organization that monitors and encourages efforts to reduce vicious dog attacks.
The group also maintains that pit bulls pose undue burdens on animal control operations because they frequently wind up in city-owned shelters.
A state law prevents California from banning specific breeds outright. Instead, California cities have addressed in a variety of other ways.
In 2005, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to adopt a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance for all pit bulls and pit bull mixes. While the city wanted to address the abundance of pit bulls populating its shelter, the ordinance was drafted after a 12-year-old boy was mauled to death by two pit bulls that were in heat.
“Experts say dogs are less likely to be aggressive if they’re spayed or neutered,” said Deb Campbell, spokeswoman for San Francisco Animal Control.
Before the ordinance, pit bulls accounted for 75 percent of the dogs in the city’s animal shelter.
“We were hoping to cut down on the number of those dogs coming into the shelter,” Campbell said. “We wanted to stop euthanizing so many dogs.”
Today the pit bull population has dropped roughly to 60 percent, nearly equal to the shelter’s Chihuahua population, Campbell said.
But city resources make the ordinance hard to enforce, Campbell said. San Francisco has nine animal control officers to patrol the county, and Campbell said they spend most of their time responding to incidents rather that patrolling for pit bulls that aren’t spayed or neutered.
Adopting mandatory spay and neuter laws for pit bulls is the least cities should do, according to Colleen Lynn of Austin, Texas, founder of DogsBite.org.
“We know it would reduce some of the worst attacks and also help lower the population of dogs in shelters,” Lynn said. “It’s the very least the each municipality should consider.”
Lynn said that pit bulls flood animal shelters across the country, accounting for roughly 30 to 70 percent of the dog population. In addition, one million pit bulls and mixes are euthanized each year, she said.
“Pit bulls take the lion’s share of administration resources,” she said.
But Lynn said cities throughout the country should consider focusing on those who have repeatedly owned vicious dogs.
Owners typically turn their dog over to animal control once its been deemed vicious. The owner is free to adopt another dog, free of any restrictions even though they once owned a violent dog.
“Somehow these bites need to be attributed to someone’s record,” Lynn said. “If there was some sort of accountability, that would begin to change or slow down the number of repeat offenders in each area.”
Another way cities could address dog attacks in by getting proactive instead of reactive, Lynn said.
In California, for example, Lancaster has laws that address dogs that are potentially dangerous. If a dog bites a person, kills or seriously injures another domestic animal, or causes a person to take defensive action at least twice within a 36-month span while off the owner’s property, Lancaster could require it be microchipped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated prior to being released by the pound.
Meanwhile, in April, Tamarac, Fla., city commissioners proposed a law that would require the owner of any dog that bites once and deemed dangerous to register it with the city clerk, muzzle it and maintain $500,000 in liability insurance, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. If the dog bites a second time, the owner can no longer keep it in Tamarac.
“Every jurisdiction is different and the ordinances reflect the breed each city has the biggest problem with,” Lynn said.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.