Lake Elsinore, CA to vote on pit bull ordinance on 3/25/14

Officials in the city of Lake Elsinore, California are considering an ordinance that would require “pit bulls” to be spayed or neutered by the time they are four months old. The proposal is modeled after Riverside County’s ordinance which was passed in October 2013.

Contrary to what is being reported elsewhere, this ordinance was not passed into law this week, and requires one more vote by the council.

The proposed ordinance did, however, receive preliminary approval from the city council at their meeting on March 11, 2014, with a 4-1 vote. Councilman Steve Manos cast the dissenting vote, and was very vocal about his concerns regarding targeting specific breeds of dogs.  In addition, several members of the public opposing the ordinance addressed the council with respect to to the problems associated with breed specific laws.

Speaking in support of the proposal was the chief veterinarian of Riverside County, Allan Drusys, and a great deal of reliance seemed to be placed in Mr. Drusys’ opinion.

The Lake Elsinore city officials also relied on a staff report written by Grant Yates, the city manager, which makes reference to the “disproportionately high number of unwanted “pit bulls” in Riverside County, as well as the determination made by the Department of Animal Services for Riverside County that “Pit Bull and Pit Bull mixes significantly impact the health and safety of residents and their pets.” Mr. Yates’ report also makes reference to an alleged pit bull attack that happened “near” the city.

To summarize, it would appear that the basis of the proposal to target pit bulls in Lake Elsinore relies on information, statistics and events that don’t apply to or didn’t take place within Lake Elsinore.

The proposed ordinance doesn’t define what a “pit bull” is but, rather, simply states:

The Animal Control Officer will determine whether a dog is a pit bull that has not been spayed or neutered in violation of Section 6.04.235.A.

In addition, Mr. Yates’ staff report indicates that “enforcement of the ordinance is anticipated to occur through routine duties of Animal Control Officers” and that “Pit Bull Breeds will be determined in the field by the best professional judgment of the Animal Control Officer.”

Thirty years ago, when breed specific legislation first reared its ugly head, visual breed identification was the primary manner in which authorities used to identify breeds in enforcing these laws if they did not have the benefit of a pedigree or similar documentation.  However, there exists today means by which to determine a dog’s breeding that overrides and invalidates the antiquated manner in which these ordinances were originally written and carried out. Today, dogs can be genetically tested to determine their breed or mixtures of breeds.  

What hasn’t changed, however, is the burden of proving a dog is or is not a member of a restricted breed – it is the city’s obligation to make positive breed identification – not the dog owners’ – which means the cost of genetic testing is the city’s burden or, more appropriately, the burden of the city’s tax paying residents.

During the city council meeting on March 11, Mr. Drusys was asked by a member of the audience how to identify a pit bull. In response, Riverside County’s chief veterinarian stated:

My staff, including Rob Miller [the director of Riverside County Animal Control], think identifying pit bulls is kinda like pornography. Its difficult to describe, but people seem to be able to identify it when they see it.”

To say the above “procedure” on pit bull identification is insulting, ignorant and blatantly biased is an incredible understatement.

The revelation of Riverside County’s procedure for identifying what qualifies as a “pit bull” prompted me to look back at the information regarding Riverside’s ordinance. As it turns out, if a resident of Riverside County challenges the declaration that their dog is a “pit bull,” breed determination would require examination of the animal by the chief veterinarian or a member of his staff where, by the chief vet’s own admission, that determination is nothing more than a staff member’s subjective judgment as to whether, in his or her personal opinion, the dog is or is not a pit bull.

Folks, if this doesn’t make your blood boil, then I don’t know what will. To support and pass a law in which the target can and will vary depending on the person enforcing it is completely arbitrary and subjective, and is designed not to promote community safety, but to stigmatize a particular grouping of dogs that happen to share a similar appearance.

I know there are some who don’t take issue with mandatory spay/neuter laws, and as a rescuer, I get that.  But here’s the problem…

Breed specific legislation (BSL) comes in varying forms, and we can’t pick and choose to fight it when it happens to promote something we would otherwise support (such as spaying and neutering).  BSL is discriminatory, and it unfairly targets and stigmatizes a specific breed of dog based on misrepresented “statistics” and cherry-picked information and, in this case, information that doesn’t even apply to the city considering its implementation.

While I personally support spaying/neutering of pets, responsible owners, regardless of their breed of choice, should have the ability to make that choice on their own.  More importantly, breed specific mandatory spay/neuter laws are unenforceable and succeed only in branding a specific breed as “bad,” “dangerous,” or otherwise needing special regulation.

And let us not forget, when Riverside County passed its breed specific ordinance last year, county officials expressed their intention to promote the ordinance in order to ensure ALL the cities within the county adopted it as their own.

In an interview with KNX1070, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone advised that the County’s goal is to “pass the ordinance in the remaining twenty-eight cities in the county” because pit bulls are “bred to be dangerous.”

As the experts have opined, no breed of dog is born dangerous.  Dangerous dogs, regardless of breed, are created by negligent, careless, abusive and  irresponsible owners, and targeting the dog owners who meet this criteria is the only way to promote community safety.

So, this begs the question… what’s the end game for the Riverside County officials in pushing these ordinances, other than the obvious –  ensuring ‘pit bulls’ are stigmatized, singled out, and regulated  with the ultimate goal of breed eradication, and as an advocate and lover of this breed, that’s just something I cannot support.

The city council is expected to take its second and final vote on this proposal on March 25, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.

Please reach out to the Lake Elsinore city officials with your polite and respectful opposition to their discriminatory proposal. Let them know that mandatory spay and neuter laws fail to decrease pet populations, and statistics show they actually result in an increase in intake at animal shelters.

Moreover, explain to them that the primary reason people do not spay or neuter their pets is because they can’t afford to or because they don’t have access to affordable spay/neuter services.  Because of this, when these ordinances are passed, they disproportionately target people in lower income brackets.  A more reasonable, fair and effective solution is to offer free or low-cost spay/neutering services along with educational programs which will promote responsible dog ownership and create more responsible dog owners in Lake Elsinore.

Mayor and City Council

njohnson@lake-elsinore.org,smanos@lake-elsinore.org,dhickman@lake-elsinore.org,rmagee@lake-elsinore.org,btisdale@lake-elsinore.org

Lake Elsinore City Hall
130 South  Main St.
Lake Elsinore, CA 92530
Phone: (951) 674-3124
Fax: (951) 674-2392

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