By Marjorie Hernandez, Ventura County Star
When the Ventura County Department of Animal Services opens its shelter to the public six times a week, families walk through the kennel to look at the dozens of pets in need of a permanent home.
"They are absolutely wonderful dogs," Nolan said as she perused the kennels and caressed several pit bulls from outside their enclosure. "It's a sad fact that when people come to adopt a pit bull, they are looking for a puppy or they won't have the animal spayed or neutered."
To help curb the number of pit bulls that end up in the shelter, and oftentimes euthanized, county Department of Animal Services officials are proposing an ordinance that would require pit bull owners to spay or neuter their pets.
Several cities and counties already have mandatory spay or neuter ordinances to control their stray population, including Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, Sonoma and Santa Cruz. Other counties such as San Francisco and San Bernardino have ordinances specifically to curb the pit bull population, which Ventura County also is considering.
Ventura County Department of Animal Services officials plan to present an ordinance to a committee made up of representatives from each city except Thousand Oaks, which contracts with Los Angeles County. The ordinance then will be presented to each city council and to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors for approval, Nolan said.
While Chihuahuas remain the No. 1 dog breed at the Camarillo shelter, the number of pit bulls that are not adopted and euthanized is much greater, Nolan said. From January 2008 to April 2011, pit bulls accounted for 19 percent of the 23,159 dogs that were turned in to the shelter. Only 7 percent, however, were adopted and 10 percent were transferred to rescue organizations. Also, 19 percent were returned to their owners.
But 56 percent were unable to find a home and were euthanized, Nolan said.
"We don't want to put them down because they are wonderful animals, but we just get too many of them," Nolan said. "But we end up being the bad guys, but really, it's because no one will take them."
Ventura County's ordinance would follow existing laws that were implemented by other counties and cities across the state after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 861 on Oct. 7, 2005. Under the law, cities and county governments can enact ordinances mandating the sterilization of certain breeds of dogs, provided that no specific breed is declared potentially dangerous or vicious by the ordinances.
Nolan said Ventura County's ordinance would either be modeled after San Francisco County's or San Bernardino County's. There, owners are given a period of time to spay or neuter their pit bull after a first warning. In San Francisco city and county, a first violation would include a fine not to exceed $500. In San Bernardino, owners are fined $100 for the first violation, with subsequent offenses garnering up to $500 in fines.
Under Ventura County's proposed ordinance, pit bulls that are registered with the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club would be exempt, Nolan said. In San Francisco, pit bulls under 8 weeks of age are exempt, as are dogs that cannot be spayed or neutered without suffering a serious injury or death because of a physical abnormality.
Deb Campbell, spokeswoman for San Francisco Animal Care and Control, said the law was passed after 12-year-old Nicholas Faibish was mauled to death by a family pit bull in June 2005. Shortly after that incident and amid much community outcry and push from Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Animal Care and Control, the ordinance was passed to spay or neuter pit bulls and pit bull mixes.
San Francisco also requires owners to obtain a permit from Animal Care and Control to breed their pit bull or pit bull mixes.
Since the rule's implementation five years ago, the number of pit bulls admitted into the animal shelter in San Francisco went down by about 25 percent and the entire dog population in the shelter went down about 33 percent, Campbell said.
Nolan said there have been no fatal dog attacks in Ventura County this year, but there were cases in May and in April where a pit and a mastiff were provoked and attacked some children in El Rio and Santa Paula.
In September 2008, 5-year old Katya Todesco of Simi Valley was bitten in the face and the neck by a neighbor's pit bull mix. She died three days later.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved a pit bull spay and neuter ordinance on July 2010, and it went into effect Aug. 13, 2010. Before that, there were four human fatalities caused by pit bulls over the past four years, said Animal Care and Control Division Chief Brian M. Cronin.
Pit bull overpopulation also was a problem in San Bernardino, which helped push the ordinance, Cronin said. Only two cities — Highland and Yucaipa — out of 24 in the county have implemented a similar law, Cronin said.
"Even though the breed was not the most admitted into our facility, pit bulls were the No. 1 breed to be euthanized at our facility, and clearly there was an overpopulation unlike other breeds," Cronin said. "In our county, clearly it was a concern because so many people died as a result of owners being irresponsible with this breed. In many cases, it is caused by the irresponsible pet owner."
Since the mandatory pit bull sterilization ordinance was approved in San Bernardino County, there has been a 9.6 percent reduction in number of total dog bites reported. A total of 590 citations were handed to pit bull owners and 160 owners complied within 30 days, Cronin said.
San Bernardino County is looking into introducing another ordinance that would require mandatory spaying or neutering of dogs with prior violations. The proposed ordinance is being reviewed internally and could be distributed to the public within 30 to 60 days, Cronin said.
Ventura County Animal Services staff is currently reviewing the fine structure for owners who violate the proposed pit bull ordinance, Nolan said. City councils in Ventura County could vote on the proposed ordinance before the end of the year, Nolan said.