Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fatal Mauling Reignites Pit Bull Debate

By Stephanie Sara Chong, The Bay Citizen

San Francisco requires spaying and neutering of the notorious breed, but Pacifica does not

The fatal mauling of a pregnant Pacifica resident has reignited a long-standing debate about laws requiring owners to neuter pit bulls.

While experts agree that sterilization reduces aggressiveness in dogs, there is no consensus on whether the procedure should be mandatory for the notorious breed.

It is in San Francisco, but not in Pacifica, where 32-year-old Darla Napora and her husband kept two unsterilized pet pit bulls.

Pacifica’s city manager, Steve Rhodes, said Thursday’s attack could change that.

“Like a lot of legislation we do, it evolves from things that happen,” Rhodes said. “We’ll certainly look at what are the options, what are the things we can do, to prevent these sorts of incidents in the future.” He could not recall any other recent pit bull incidents in Pacifica, and said that the city has never considered such breed-specific legislation before.

San Francisco enacted its pit bull sterilization law in 2006 after a 12-year-old boy was killed by two unsterilized pit bulls. Since then, the city has had no significant attacks from an altered pit bull, though there have been reports of unsterilized pit bull attacks, including one last July that injured three people in Golden Gate Park.

But the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, which currently provides animal control services to all cities in San Mateo County, does not think the answer lies in legal mandates.

“As an organization, we’re not a proponent of mandatory sterilization,” said president Ken White. “We're the type of organization that believes more in helping people learn what is good and, if it’s a matter of cost, helping people get that done.”

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA spays and neuters all cats and dogs prior to adoption, and even pays owners a $10 bounty to bring in their pit bulls for free sterilization, a program they call the "ball bounty."

On Friday, the organization performed a necropsy on the pit bull that killed Napora, but a spokesman refused to release the results, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Thursday’s tragedy has also renewed the debate about whether pit bulls make safe household pets. Despite past attacks that incited concerns about the safety of the breed, many contend that pit bulls are much like any other dog.

White said his most serious dog bite in 34 years of working with animals came from a golden retriever. The animal “pulled out a soup-bowl size” piece of skin from his stomach, he said.

Rebecca Katz, the director of San Francisco’s animal control department, said that pit bulls are not naturally aggressive. It’s usually circumstances that make them that way.

“Any dog can be wired funny, just like a person,” Katz said. “Pit bulls have been the most abused, misused. People have trained them to be aggressive or bred them to be aggressive.”

The breed's physical vigor and strong jaws have helped exaggerate their reputation, since “when something goes awry, the damage is usually much more,” Katz said.

Pit bulls haven’t always been the feared breed they are today.

“We have a short memory,” said Jason Walthall, co-president of the San Francisco SPCA. “Fifteen years ago, everybody thought that Doberman pinschers were terribly dangerous, and 25 years ago everybody thought that it was German shepherds.”

“Pit bulls right now have the bad rap," he added, "but it’s really about stereotyping breeds."

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