L.A. Unleashed

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Category: Breed-Specific Legislation

Most American pet owners blame owners, not genetics, for dangerous dogs

Pit Bull

The majority of American pet owners believe a well-trained dog is safe -- even if it comes from one of the "bully breeds."

Some dog breeds, such as pit bulls or Rottweilers, are considered truly dangerous by 28% of American pet owners, but in an Associated Press-Petside.com poll, 71% said any breed can be safe if the dogs are well trained.

"It's not the dog. It's the owner that's the problem," said Michael Hansen, a 59-year-old goldsmith from Port Orchard, Wash. "The dog will do whatever it can to please the owner, right down to killing another animal for you."

"If they are brought up in a loving household, they can flourish just like any other dog," agreed Nancy Lyman, 56, of Warwick, Mass.

Sixty percent of pet owners feel that all dog breeds should be allowed in residential communities, while 38% believe some breeds should be banned, according to the poll conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.

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Miami-Dade County pit bull owners use service-animal loophole to skirt breed ban

Pitty MIAMI — Officials in Miami-Dade County say a small but growing group of pit bull owners has found a loophole in the county's ban against the breed.

Miami-Dade Animal Services reports that about a half-dozen pit bulls have been registered as service animals for people with disabilities. Federal rules governing service animals trump the local ban, enacted in 1989 after an 8-year-old girl was mauled by a neighbor's pit bull.

Investigator supervisor Kathy Labrada says it's a challenge to verify that a pit bull is a service animal because the federal rules don't require any special certification and restrict what the county can ask about an individual's disabilities.

Pit bull owners can face a $500 fine and possible court hearings in Miami-Dade, which considers the breed to be dangerous.

San Bernardino County weighs mandatory spay/neuter for pit bulls and pit bull mixes
Riverside's quick fix for pit bull population explosion: free sterilization

-- Associated Press

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

New breed-specific ordinance in Austria causes anger from dog owners


VIENNA — Carolin Fabian jokes that the only thing her American Staffordshire terrier Tobias fights for is a place on the couch.

"He's very calm. He's happy when he can sleep, eat ... go for a bit of a walk when it's not too hot or raining," said the 35-year-old Fabian.

Sounds harmless. But starting Thursday, Fabian and owners of 11 other breeds known as aggressive "fight dogs" will be under stricter scrutiny: a hotly debated new law requires Viennese and longterm visitors who own such dogs to carry a license proving they can keep their pets in check.

Some say the measure will make public spaces safer; critics call it canine profiling.

The dog magazine Wuff tried to make that point in a highly controversial manner -- by publishing a flier that showed a young pit bull wearing a yellow star with the word "bad" inscribed in it, seated next to a Labrador puppy. A headline above the two asked: "What differentiates us?" The magazine dropped the yellow star from its campaign after protests from the Jewish community.

Months later, emotions are still running high.

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San Bernardino County weighs mandatory spay/neuter for pit bulls and pit bull mixes

Pit bull

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has approved a measure that would require all pit bulls and pit bull mixes in the county to be spayed or neutered. Owners who refuse to alter their pets would face fines.

Dealing with the county's pit bulls specifically, rather than all dogs regardless of breed, was "an imminent issue that we felt had to be addressed because of the recent attacks," Supervisor Neil Derry said, referring to the deaths of two San Bernardino County children in separate incidents involving pit bulls this year. Four county residents have been killed in incidents involving pit bulls over the last five years.

A final vote on the ordinance is scheduled for July, and it is expected to pass handily. When it goes into effect, pit bulls and pit mixes over 4 months of age will be required to be spayed or neutered. The county will give vouchers to low-income dog owners to subsidize the cost of sterilization surgery. Owners who ignore the ordinance will face a $100 fine for the first offense, with subsequent offenses drawing a stiffer penalty.

Derry, who co-sponsored the measure, said he views legislation requiring pit bulls to be altered as a preliminary step toward ultimately implementing spay/neuter requirements for all San Bernardino County dogs. Such a requirement is already on the books in the nearby city of Los Angeles.

Learn more about the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors' efforts to mandate the altering of pit bulls at The Times' local news blog, L.A. Now.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

Marine base cracks down on violators of rule that bans 'aggressive' dog breeds from military housing

Rottweiler puppies

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A North Carolina Marine Corps base is cracking down on violators of a rule banning pit bulls and other aggressive dog breeds from military housing.

The Daily News of Jacksonville reported Thursday that Marines who haven't been approved for a waiver by April 1 will be evicted or have their pets taken. Only about a quarter of the 200 dogs in the vicious breed category known to live in base housing have been registered.

Camp Lejeune's base commander last April issued an order banning full or mixed breeds of pit bulls, Rottweilers, wolf-dogs mixes or any breed with "dominant traits of aggression."

The ban came after a 3-year-old boy was fatally bitten in base housing in 2008 by a pit bull owned by a visiting family friend.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Rottweiler puppies play with a trainer at a Clearwater, Fla., humane society. Credit: Scott Martin / Associated Press

Breed-specific legislation has helped reduce gang-related crime, says Lancaster mayor

Last January, Lancaster city officials voted to adopt an ordinance designed to discourage gangs by imposing penalties on the owners of dogs deemed "potentially dangerous" or "vicious."  You guessed it -- the law singled out two breeds in particular, pit bulls and Rottweilers.  Our colleague Ann M. Simmons has the details on what's transpired since the law went into effect; here's an excerpt:

Parris City officials said that 1,138 pit bulls and Rottweilers were impounded last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. Of those, 362 were voluntarily surrendered by their owners in response to Lancaster’s ordinance.

"A year ago, this city was overrun with individuals -- namely, gang members -- who routinely used pit bulls and other potentially vicious dogs as tools of intimidation and violence," Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement.

"These individuals delighted in the danger these animals posed to our residents, often walking them without leashes and allowing them to run rampant through our neighborhoods and parks. Today, more than 1,100 of these animals have been removed from our city, along with the fear they create. Lancaster is now a great deal safer because of it."

Parris believes there is a correlation between the results of the dog ordinance and a drop in the city's gang crime rate. Lancaster's violent gang crime, which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, fell by 45% last year, and there was a drop in overall gang crime by 41%, Parris said, citing statistics from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.


Photo: Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris in 2009.  Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Two of 85 dogs ousted from South Carolina Marine bases for aggressiveness

Pit bull

Most of the pit bulls, Rottweilers and canine-wolf mixes assessed at Marine bases in South Carolina this week get to keep their Marine dog tags.

Of 85 dogs from the three breeds checked by experts from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, only two were found to be so aggressive as to pose a danger to Marines and their families. Those two will have to leave base housing. Two others showed aggressive tendencies but one will work with a trainer and another will be neutered.

The Marines have banned the aggressive breeds, because their "dominant traits of aggression present an unreasonable risk to the health and safety of personnel."

Last year, a 3-year-old boy was fatally bitten by a pit bull at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Owners who can show thorough assessments that their pets present no danger to humans or other pets may get waivers and keep them on bases through 2012.

The pets at the Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot, the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and the Beaufort Naval Hospital were assessed by experts from the ASPCA during three days of tests this week.

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Sioux City councilman had sold his condemned Labrador before it was stolen from animal shelter

Sioux City councilman Aaron Rochester Sioux City, Iowa, city councilman Aaron Rochester apparently agreed to sell his condemned Labrador retriever, Jake, to a local businessman in the days before Jake was stolen from the animal shelter where he was being held.

The businessman, Lew Weinberg, told the Sioux City Journal that he arranged to buy Jake from Rochester for $1 on July 31.  The idea behind the sale, Weinberg said, was to try to save the dog's life through an appeal to district court. 

Rochester had told local media that he wouldn't continue to pursue the case after two local authorities -- Sioux City's police captain and a special arbiter -- sided with the animal control department, which labeled Jake "vicious" after he attacked a neighbor.  Rochester maintained that Jake was simply trying to protect Rochester's young daughter and a friend, who were playing nearby, from a perceived danger.  But Sioux City's dog rules are hard and fast, and they require that vicious dogs be killed as a matter of public safety.

The irony of the case lies in the fact that Rochester himself successfully lobbied last year to ban pit bulls in the city, alleging that the breed was the one most likely to attack humans.  His position was a decidedly delicate one, then, as he tried to persuade city officials to spare Jake's life. 

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Sioux City councilman's Labrador stolen from animal shelter while on countdown to be euthanized

Rochester We told you last month about the strange case of Jake, a Labrador retriever owned by Sioux City, Iowa, City Councilman Aaron Rochester (at left). 

Rochester campaigned successfully to ban pit bulls in Sioux City last year based on his assertion that the breed is vicious and likely to attack people.  The shoe was on the other foot when Jake himself attacked a neighbor who was walking past Rochester's home; the local animal control department deemed Jake "vicious," a label that mandates euthanasia.

Rochester appealed to Sioux City's police captain, Pete Groetken, asking him to step in and grant clemency to the dog.  Rochester has said he believes Jake was trying to protect his young daughter and her friend, who were playing nearby, when he attacked the neighbor.  (The bite required five stitches; even so, Rochester maintained that the neighbor, who chose to remain anonymous, didn't want Jake to be euthanized.)  But, after considering the case, Groetken refused to overturn the animal control officers' decision.  

Rochester appealed once again, this time to a special arbiter appointed by the city manager, in hopes of sparing Jake from euthanasia.  But the second appeal also proved futile; the arbiter, a former police captain, reaffirmed the original verdict.  This time, Rochester said he would stop fighting the city and accept Jake's death sentence.  Things looked bleak for Jake; pending the end of a 30-day window during which Rochester technically could have appealed again, the dog was quartered at a Sioux City animal shelter.

Until Sunday.

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Iowa politician who pushed for pit bull ban seeks mercy for his Labrador that bit a neighbor

Pit bull

Sioux City, Iowa, City Councilman Aaron Rochester was instrumental in a successful campaign last year to ban pit bulls within city limits. Among the most damning evidence he presented in support of the ban was animal control department reports showing that pit bulls were the breed most apt to bite people.

Rochester had a bit of egg on his face, then, when his own dog -- a yellow Labrador retriever named Jake -- bit a neighbor and was deemed vicious by the Sioux City animal control department. Rochester maintained that Jake, "a great watchdog," was only trying to protect his young daughter and a friend, who were playing nearby. But the bite required five stitches, and the victim maintained he'd done nothing to provoke the attack.

A city code requires that vicious dogs be euthanized for the public's safety. But Rochester appealed to Sioux City's police captain, Pete Groetken, for clemency. 

"I think it will be very difficult for me to reverse a decision by [animal control] unless there was strong evidence that there was a need for the animal to protect the owner's property," Groetken told the Sioux City Journal before making his ruling. The ruling came last week in the form of a certified letter to Rochester: Jake is vicious.

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