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Targeting Aggressive Dog Breeds in California
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Targeting Aggressive Dog Breeds in California

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Targeting Aggressive Dog Breeds in California

Targeting Aggressive Dog Breeds in California
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Several high-profile pit bull maulings in the San Francisco Bay Area have prompted county officials to call for mandatory spaying and neutering of the breed and tight restrictions on pit bull breeders. California also has a new state law that allows cities to target certain canine breeds, such as pit bulls, in the name of public safety. Richard Gonzales reports.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

San Francisco is set to crack down on pit bulls. Tough new rules are expected this week calling for mandatory spaying or neutering of every pit bull. The get-tough policy is one of many in California, where the state now gives cities the power to target dangerous dog breeds. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

Take a quick tour of San Francisco's main animal shelter and you can't escape the fact that two-thirds of the dogs caged here are pit bulls.

Mr. CARL FRIEDMAN (Director, San Francisco's Animal Care and Control): A number of these dogs are being held for vicious and dangerous hearings.

GONZALES: Carl Friedman is the director of San Francisco's Animal Care and Control. He says there are about 7,000 pit bulls in San Francisco, about 6 percent of the city's dog population, but they account for more than half of the canines that get picked up after biting someone. Over the last year, Friedman's agency euthanized 875 dogs for lack of a home; about half were pit bulls.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I want to get our head out of the sand and say, `I have an overpopulation problem with pit bulls. I'm euthanizing healthy adoptable pit bulls. Pit bulls are accounting for more dog bites and more serious bites than any other dogs. I need to zero in on that.'

GONZALES: California has given cities the power to do just that with a new law that allows local officials to target pit bulls or any other troublesome breed. This week, San Francisco will decide whether to require pit bull owners to spay or neuter their dogs and to require pit bull breeders to obtain a permit from the city. San Francisco County Supervisor Bevan Dufty is driving the new regulations.

Mr. BEVAN DUFTY (San Francisco County Supervisor): I don't think this is onerous. This is not banning a breed. It's simply mandating spaying and neutering, which is a good step given that 90 percent of vicious and dangerous dog-biting incidents involve intact male dogs.

GONZALES: Dufty's proposal was prompted by last summer's mauling death of 12-year-old Nicholas Fabish, a San Francisco boy who was killed by his family's two pit bulls. It was only the latest such incident to rock San Francisco. But pit bull owners and defenders say the new legislation unfairly treats the dogs like loaded weapons waiting to go off.

Ms. DONNA REYNOLDS (Director, Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls): This is Flash. He's one of the residents here at Pit Bull Hall, and he's out for his potty break. All the dogs get out twice a day for some exercise and training.

GONZALES: Donna Reynolds is showing off one of her prize pupils. She directs Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, hence the acronym BAD RAP. The group has a joint project with the Oakland SPCA called Pit Bull Hall, where hand-selected dogs are trained and socialized before they are put up for adoption. Reynolds says the pit bull community is split over the proposed San Francisco law. She acknowledges there is an overpopulation problem and that many of the dogs are not bred responsibly. But Reynolds says the problem isn't confined to pit bulls.

Ms. REYNOLDS: So we would prefer to see this handled in an all-breed ordinance rather than a breed-specific ordinance. Dogs are being bred poorly of every breed all over the country. It's not just pit bulls. It's certainly pit bulls right now, but there's a lot of other dogs that are getting into trouble. So we're worried that by targeting one breed, we're vilifying that breed.

GONZALES: Pit bulls have been banned altogether in several communities such as North Little Rock, Arkansas, Prince George's County, Maryland, and Denver, Colorado. In California, meanwhile, attorney Dawn Capp is one of many who are planning to challenge the new state crackdown on dangerous dogs. She says it effectively gives cities, such as San Francisco, the power to ban any breed they want by making the pet owner a potential target.

Ms. DAWN CAPP (Attorney): If realistically you can't get insurance--you know, homeowners insurance or your landlord--their insurance won't cover them if they have a tenant with such a dog--then in reality, it's a ban.

GONZALES: San Francisco officials say they are ready for a legal battle, but they still intend to approve a new dog law on Tuesday. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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