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Breed-Specific Laws in California

Much of the sheltering world was still mired in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts last October, so it would have been easy to miss SB 861, a significant animal-related bill that was signed into law by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But now the effects of that law, which went into effect January 1, are spreading across the state.

Introduced by Senator Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), the law permits the passage of local ordinances that institute mandatory spay/neuter or breeding restrictions for certain breeds. At the same time, it prohibits laws that would label a specific breed as potentially dangerous and requires local governments with breed-specific ordinances to report dog bite statistics four times a year.

Until last year, the state was one of 12 that prohibited breed-specific legislation. The new law blames worsening pet overpopulation and unregulated dog breeding for necessitating “a repeal of the ban on breed-specific solutions and a more immediate alternative to existing laws.”

Soon after SB 861 made the books, some cities and counties began to move forward. In November 2005, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco voted unanimously to support legislation directed at pit bulls.

Since January, San Francisco pit bull owners without $100 breeding permits have been required to sterilize their dogs. The city issues breeding permits to approved owners whose dogs are registered with the AKC, UKC, or American Dog Breeders Association; the dogs must also conform to the relevant breed standard. Owners of show dogs are eligible for breeding permits if they have shown their dog in the last year or have applied to do so.

Pit Bull Dilemma & Debate

If you weren’t able to attend Animal Care Expo 2006 in Anaheim, California, you missed a stimulating discussion about pit bulls. During the general session, attendees heard from leaders of The HSUS, PETA, and BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls). To learn more, visit pitbulldilemma.

The 2005 death of Nicholas Faibish, a San Francisco boy attacked by his family’s pit bulls, led to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s creation of the “canine response working group” that gathered information to create the new law. In a San Francisco Chronicle article last year, Newsom said he would do everything he could to regulate “proven dangerous breeds.”

This law also aims to reduce the numbers of pit bulls entering the city shelter; last year, more than one third of the dogs impounded by the agency were pit bulls or mixes. The city’s animal care and control department provides information to interested owners on free and low-cost spay/neuter programs.

Under San Francisco’s new rules, pit bulls are defined as American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and dogs who are similar in appearance. Based on the number of licensed pit bulls in the city—and the fact that only 10 percent of all dogs in the city are licensed—San Francisco Animal Care and Control estimates that the law could affect 7,000 pits and pit mixes.

A new law in Los Angeles was influenced by another local attack, in which an 11-month-old girl was seriously injured by a pit bull mix—in this case, one who was licensed and neutered.

Los Angeles County supervisors chose not to focus on the breed of the dog. Stating their aims to reduce the population of stray dogs, decrease euthanasia rates, protect the public, and encourage responsible pet ownership, the county board of supervisors approved an ordinance in May that requires dogs in unincorporated areas to be sterilized and microchipped.

The ordinance grants exceptions for service dogs or police dogs, and allows for a 90-day grace period after the law goes into effect in June. Exemptions will also be granted for show dogs and purebreds who meet certain requirements. The new ordinance is an expansion of a previous plan in February to require sterilization only of pit bulls and rottweilers.

Read more about The HSUS’s policy against breed-specific legislation.


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