Pit bulls under fire

By Sarah Ostman
Manteca Sun Post

MANTECA Responding to a rash of pit bull attacks a few months back, city officials are looking into ways to crack down on people who own allegedly vicious dogs. But some fear that laws under consideration could unfairly target pit bulls.

Interim Police Chief Dave Bricker said May 29 that police are compiling a list of possible "vicious dog" laws to be weighed by the city attorney and councilmen this summer.

Most likely, Bricker said, the council will consider relatively minor tweaks to the city's existing laws regarding all breeds of vicious dogs.
Presently, Bricker explained, the city of Manteca considers a dog vicious after it attacks a person or animal two times.

That means a dog that charges someone but does not actually bite him or her, or one that acts aggressively toward people walking past its property, would likely not qualify.

But the council could take a more extreme approach, Bricker said, even passing an ordinance that would forbid people from owning pit bulls within city limits.

Other possibilities could include requiring owners of certain breeds to purchase insurance, although enforcing such a law would be virtually impossible, Bricker said, or refusing to adopt out lost or stray pit bulls recovered at the city pound.

Unsurprisingly, these "breed-specific laws" draw criticism from people who say the rules unfairly target well-behaved dogs instead of punishing those with vicious tendencies.

"Why should a world-famous, life-saving American Pit Bull Terrier, and her owner, be punished for the irresponsible actions of somebody else who simply happens to own the same breed?," wrote Kris Crawford, president of the nonprofit For Pit's Sake, in an e-mail. "Laws need to hold individuals accountable for their own actions?"

Plus, some say, several of the laws being presented by the Manteca Police Department may actually be against the law.

"Those laws sound highly suspect and probably illegal," said Sharon Coleman, attorney for The Animal Council, a Millbrae-based organization for dog breeders and showers.

Cities may set their own laws regarding vicious dogs, according to a 2005 state law, as long as those laws do not discriminate against a certain breed.

In 2006, an exemption was added to that law that made it legal for cities to require certain breeds to be spayed or neutered.

The city of Ripon passed a law in 2006 that requires all pit bulls and mixes to be spayed or neutered unless they meet strict guidelines as breeding or show dogs. The law was passed after a pit bull mauled a cat, according to a Ripon city employee.

Animal Control workers for the cities of Stockton, Modesto and Lodi said this week that they have no laws specific to pit bulls.

But an employee of the Stockton Animal Shelter said pit bulls are only put up for adoption at that shelter in rare circumstances, when they prove to be extremely sociable. Others, if they go unclaimed by their owners, are taken in by rescue groups or euthanized.

For some who have experienced a pit bull attack, cracking down on the breed is a no-brainer.

Earlier this month, Shannon Uecker's four children were attacked by two pit bulls as they walked to school on California Avenue. Her children took cover under a nearby car and beat the dogs off with a binder, she said, until two roofers jumped off a house nearby and beat the dog off them with hammers.

After that, Uecker said, she definitely supports a pit bull law.
"I definitely think something needs to be done," said Uecker, 30. "f you're going to get dogs that are vicious like that, and are known to be vicious like that, you have to take responsibility for your actions."

Andy Fiskum, Staff Services Coordinator for Modesto Animal Services, said most pit bulls become aggressive because they don't get enough interaction with their owners.

"They're a really, really social dog," Fiskum said. "They need attention from your family. When you come across a lot of problems with pit bulls is when they're thrown in the back yard and left there."