The wrong tree?
Council changes position on pit bull ordinance
Just 30 hours after the Pasadena City Council held off from enacting proposed legislation mandating the spaying and neutering of pit bulls, police were forced to shoot and kill one of three pit bulls that attacked a cyclist.
The Wednesday morning incident prompted Councilman Steve Madison, who proposed the ordinance, to renew his calls for better control of pit bulls.
“Pit bull lovers, and there are a number of them and they are passionate about their dogs, argue that they don’t bite any more frequently than other dogs,” Madison wrote on Facebook a few hours after the attack. “That’s beside the point, because we are talking here about the gravity of the harm, the severity of the attacks.”
Pasadena police Lt. Tracey Ibarra told the Pasadena Weekly that the department’s focus in on public safety and not on one particular breed. “Our viewpoint is any dog could be a threat,” Ibarra said.
In Wednesday’s attack, the dogs — which had not been sterilized — went after Pasadena resident Andrew Ross, 37, shortly after 5 a.m. in the 1400 block of North Fair Oaks Avenue, as Ross was walking his bike.
According to a witness who notified police, the dogs knocked Ross down and dragged him by his legs. Ross fended off the attack by using his bicycle to block the animals, then broke away and climbed on top of a nearby car, where he stayed until police arrived.
According to Ibarra, the dogs were still in the area when police arrived and initially appeared to be leaving, but then turned and began advancing toward the officers while barking aggressively.
An officer discharged a shotgun, killing one of the dogs. But the two other dogs continued advancing on officers, who were then forced to shoot at the other two dogs, which then left the area but were later recovered by animal control officers. The conditions of the other two dogs were unknown.
Just before midnight Monday, the City Council voted 5-3 to table Madison’s proposed law, which was first passed by a 6-1 vote in November and was up for a first reading and passage. Now, the ordinance will be brought back for reconsideration in July. At that time, the council will decide whether to proceed with plans to target only pit bulls for sterilization or include all breeds in the program. By that time, the Pasadena Humane Society will have finished its survey of licensed dogs in Pasadena.
Monday’s action marked a major about-face for the council.
Council members John Kennedy, Terry Tornek and Gene Masuda voted against the motion to table the matter, desiring to deny passage on the first reading.
“I continue to feel, and based on what I’ve read and what the [Pasadena] Humane Society told us last time we discussed mandatory spay and neuter, that we should continue with the path we set out on in October, when we discussed mandatory spay and neuter for all breeds,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who along with Mayor Bill Bogaard and Council members Victor Gordo, Jacque Robinson and Madison voted to table to issue until the council’s July 14 meeting.
In November, when the matter came up for a vote, the pit bull-specific ordinance was opposed only by Robinson.
“The desire to criminalize millions of completely innocent dogs, or groups of anything else who have been generically and unfairly deemed to universally fit some negative connotation as a whole is fundamentally wrong on every level,” said Pasadena resident Josh Liddy, one of 55 people to turn in speaker cards prior to the marathon meeting.
“People are individuals, and so are dogs. If you treat them in the opposite ways then you not only discriminate wildly but also resoundingly fail to even attempt to address the problems associated with the individual incidents or attacks that have jump-started these debates in the first place,” Liddy said from the speaker’s podium.
Like a similar law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, Pasadena’s proposed law would force sterilization of pit bulls older than 4 months. The law would exempt show and service pit bulls, those used by law enforcement and dogs facing health issues during sterilization.
Pro-dog Web sites have been attacking Madison’s proposed ordinance for the past three months.
“Breed-specific legislation has a long history of being HYPERLINK "http://www.nopitbullbans.com/2013/10/31/what-is-bsl/" \t "_blank" racist legislation,” wrote the editor of nopitbullbans.com. “And yes, even breed-specific, mandatory spay/neuter legislation doesn’t just target pit bulls, but often their minority owners, typically African-Americans and Latinos.”
“Uneducated, cruel owners are to blame for violent dogs, not just pit bulls, but dogs in general,” wrote Jessica Carla de Lima-Moran. “And these owners would ignore a ban regardless. These bans are useless.”
There are 14 states with laws prohibiting such breed-specific legislation. State lawmakers in California cannot establish most breed-specific laws, but county supervisors and city council members may establish breed-specific spay/neuter programs, Pasadena City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said Monday night. Dozens of California cities have repealed or rejected such legislation, a staff report on the ordinance explained, while eight cities have joined with Riverside County in passing these types of laws.
Despite overwhelming opposition to the ordinance, Madison held fast to his position that pit bulls are a dangerous breed.
“I continue to believe, based on the data and facts I have seen, that pit bulls are extremely dangerous,” Madison said Monday. “There is undeniably a correlation between this breed, for whatever reason, there is a connection between this breed and severe attacks. I do think it is incumbent upon us to take some action. I’m not worried that my Maltipoo is going to kill someone.”
The local ordinance was opposed by the Pasadena Humane Society.
“Mandatory spay/neuter of all dogs and cats remains our recommendation,” said Humane Society Vice President Elizabeth Richer Campo. “It is smarter to have effective vicious-dog ban laws that support the work of the Humane Society to ensure the community is safe.”
According to Monday’s presentation, 15 percent of the dogs in the care of the Pasadena Humane Society are pit bulls, and 27 percent of all dogs euthanized are of that breed.
Pasadena has not had a fatal pit bull attack, but there have been a number of incidents involving the much-vilified animals.
On Jan. 11, a man was trapped inside his car by an aggressive pit bull on Washington Boulevard, near Lincoln Avenue. The dog was Tasered by a Pasadena police officer. The animal escaped, but was picked up as a stray two days later. Ultimately, the owner volunteered to surrender the dog to the Humane Society.
On two occasions prior to Wednesday morning, Pasadena police officers were forced to kill roaming pit bulls that charged toward them.
In October, a pit bull that was not on a leash attacked a man walking his dog in Victory Park in east Pasadena. The man was trying to stop the animal from mauling his pet. Councilman Masuda, whose district includes Victory Park, told the Weekly that the man was not seriously injured. Since the incident, the city’s Public Works Department has placed more signage in the park, reminding dog owners to keep their pets on leashes.
Masuda said at the meeting that he had never seen so many people express their opposition to a single topic before, referring to the correspondence that poured into the city in the weeks before Monday’s meeting.
“As a council I know we care about public safety, but is this law fair? I don’t believe it is,” Masuda said Monday. “I don’t support having a pit bull ordinance right now. I think we should have the other ordinance come forward, where all dogs and cats are equally spayed and neutered, to have a breed-neutral law, rather than a specific law.”
In his Facebook posting, Madison expressed vindication for his position on the issue.
“They argue that if properly cared for pit bulls are loving, peaceful pets,” he wrote. “Well, three of the five fatal attacks in California last year were by the victim’s family’s pets. But even if true, that many pit bulls behave peacefully does not change the fact that year-in year-out the overwhelming number of the most severe attacks are committed by this breed, notwithstanding its relatively small population.”