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Pasadena mulls pit-bull ban

City leaders say the powerful and sometimes aggressive dogs threaten public safety.

  • Three young pit bulls wait to be adopted at the Pasadena Humane Society. Some city leaders believe Pasadena should consider a ban on the dogs.
Three young pit bulls wait to be adopted at the Pasadena Humane Society.… (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer )
October 19, 2012|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

After voting last month to crack down on unlicensed dogs, some city leaders are pushing for new controls over potentially dangerous breeds.

City Councilman Steve Madison believes Pasadena should consider a ban on pit bulls within city limits, saying the powerful and sometimes aggressive dogs pose an inherent threat to public safety.

“Time after time, a pit bull chews a kid to death somewhere, and I’m not going to let that happen in Pasadena,” Madison said during an Oct. 1 meeting of the council’s Public Safety Committee. “I would have no problem saying ‘Pasadena’s a special place: If you want to live here, come, but don’t bring your pit bull.’”

Steve McNall, president of the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, countered that such a law would unfairly punish responsible pit-bull owners and would not receive his or any other animal welfare leader’s support.

“It’s a discrimination issue,” said McNall, who told Madison he’d refuse take part in any plan that could lead to possible seizure and euthanizing of contraband dogs. “To take somebody’s personal property, a family member, and kill it? The last time I checked, this is the United States, not Russia.”

In addition to its nonprofit shelter, the Humane Society provides contract animal control services for Pasadena and other area cities.

For now, both sides of the pit-bull argument are relatively moot, as California law prevents cities from banning any specific breed of dog.

But Pasadena officials are also discussing a San Francisco law that requires all pit bulls in the city to be spayed or neutered.

Adopted shortly after the 2005 mauling death of a 12-year-old boy by a group of pit bulls in a breeding frenzy, the law has dramatically reduced reports of dangerous or vicious pit bulls, said San Francisco Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz.

Spaying and neutering, Katz said, appears to keep hormone levels and aggressive impulses in check.

Numerous national studies, however, fail to fault pit bull, Rottweiler, Doberman and other so-called bully breed dogs as more likely to attack people than any other breed, Pasadena Humane Society Senior Vice President Elizabeth Richer Campo said.

But Madison, who keeps two Maltipoo (Maltese-poodle mix) dogs as family pets, contends that frequent media reports of attacks by bully breeds provide anecdotal evidence that some dogs are more dangerous when they bite.

“I doubt there’s a stack of cocker spaniel fatalities they’re hiding from the newspapers,” he said.

Pasadena police and Humane Society animal control officers have responded to at least eight incidents involving pit bulls over the past two years, according to police records. Most reports were about dogs running loose or chasing people, but two were related to bites.

Calls to regulate pit bulls in Pasadena date back to July 2007, when three people suffered bites from a group of pit bulls roaming near North Michigan Avenue and East Mountain Street. A police officer shot and killed one of the dogs after the group charged at him.

Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who represents the neighborhood where those attacks took place, said she has been pushing for stronger bully-breed regulations since that time.

Under current city law, animal control officers can impound dogs that attack people or display other aggressive tendencies. Officers can also fine owners that do not license their dogs.

City Council members voted in September to authorize door-to-door dog license checks by Humane Society workers starting in June.

McAustin said canvassing will help the city identify potentially dangerous dogs and track breed populations.

“We shouldn’t let up on our efforts to control dangerous breeds, but dogs are trained to be aggressive by people who want aggressive dogs,” she said. “We have to get at that behavior. The problem we really have is irresponsible owners, and if we can’t regulate the dogs, we have to regulate the owners.”

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