Editor’s note: On October 22, the Riverside City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that requires owners of pit bulls and pit bull mixes to have their dogs either spayed or neutered. Ward 1 Councilman Mike Gardner writes in to discuss the rationale behind his support for the measure.

We have all seen the media stories of people and pets being mauled, even killed, in attacks by pit bull and pit bull mix dogs. While it is true that all breeds of dog can, and sometimes do, bite you seldom hear of serious attacks on people or pets by other breeds. In the last two years I have had three constituents and four pets attacked by pit bulls. Each of these attacks was serious. There were substantial veterinary bills for the injured pets and one constituent had her face horribly scarred and nearly lost an eye.

This is not to say that all pit bulls are inherently bad or dangerous. I have met some great pit bulls. I agree that it is the owner, not the dog, who often creates problems. But pits are very strong animals and if one does bite, it tends to hold on, not bite and release like many other dogs. A bite from any large dog is a serious matter and can be fatal, especially to children, the elderly and smaller animals. For whatever reason, there seem to be many more bites by pit bulls than other breeds and mixes.

It is widely recognized that spaying and neutering dogs reduces roaming. An intact male will go to great lengths to get to a female in heat, and it will aggressively “protect” her. If a male dog is neutered before reaching sexual maturity it tends to be less aggressive than one that is intact or that was neutered after becoming sexually mature. Spayed females tend not to roam as much as intact ones and do not attract males by going into heat.

In the City and County of Riverside about 20% of the dogs in shelters are pit bulls and pit bull mixes. This is disproportionate to the number of pit bulls in the general dog population. Worse, 30% of the dogs euthanized in our shelters are pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Pits are difficult to adopt out, so most that find their way into the shelter do not leave alive.

Riverside’s ordinance does not prohibit ownership of pit bulls or pit bull mixes. It does not prevent registered breeders from breeding or selling them in the city. It simply requires that pit bulls in our city be sterilized before sexual maturity with very limited exceptions. The exceptions are important. Registered breeders do not need to sterilize their animals. Any animal that is medically unable to withstand the rigors of the surgery are exempt. Animals that are in the city for training but are licensed in another jurisdiction are exempt. And dogs used in police work are exempt because police dogs are very highly trained and controlled, and they need to be aggressive to do their job.

Mandatory sterilization of pit bulls and pit bull mixes can reduce attacks on people and pets, and it can reduce the number of unwanted animals. This in turn reduces the number of animals that must be euthanized in our shelters. As it stands now, we are allowing pit bulls to be bred to die. This is not right and should be stopped. It isn’t fair to the dogs, and it isn’t fair to the people who have to kill them. Mandatory sterilization of these animals is a step in the right direction and in Riverside we have taken it.

Mike Gardner
Ward 1 Councilmember
Riverside, California