Supervisors Decide Against Changing Vicious Dog Law

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After months of debate by county leaders, activists were victorious Tuesday in their fight against a law change that they said would have made it easier for county officials to put down dogs found in fighting rings.

“It just reflects old ideas. It reflects old thinking,” said attorney Marla Tausher. “It’s disgraceful, frankly, and it’s totally unfair.”

Advocates presented a copy of an online petition against the ordinance that’s gained more than 4,300 supporters in Orange County and around the world.

“The sheer volume of signatures should send you a message that we won’t let our representatives rubber stamp” this legislation without our voices being heard, said Corinne D’Ambrosio of the Orange County-based SoCal Pitbull T.E.A.M.

When it came time for county supervisors to vote, no one, including its chief advocate, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, moved for approval. It followed months of consideration by the board.

Chairman Shawn Nelson then quipped that it was “a mark of efficiency.”

Several of the speakers urged the county to use animal behavior experts to determine whether dogs are vicious.

“All dogs used by humans as an extension of their own aggressive tendencies” are victims, said resident Barbara Telesmanic, urging supervisors to hold owners accountable instead of abused animals.

Nelson replied that the focus does indeed need to be placed on the owners.

“Please understand, part of our problem is it’s not that the dogs misbehave. … Some of these owners misbehave,” said Nelson. “I wish I understood why certain owners act like idiots.”

Joel Solomon, another speaker, spoke fondly of his adopted pit bull, which he said was accused of being in a fighting ring.

“This is the greatest dog that has made the biggest impression” on me, my friends and family, Solomon said, adding that his dog has been dubbed Herbie the Love Bug.

Rose Villagas, a resident, said she adopted a pitbull in August who was deemed aggressive by an animal shelter in Downey.

“This dog has not once attempted to bite me, growl at me” or anything, Villagas told supervisors. “Under your new ordinance, she would be dead.”

She asked what qualifications the animal control director has “to say that my dog should be dead.”

Supervisor John Moorlach challenged a central premise of the activists.

Every time this issue comes up, Moorlach said, he asks, “Do we have an issue with fighting dogs in Orange County? And every time the answer has been no. And yet here we are, always addressing fighting dogs.”

Supervisor Pat Bates said the issue has been overblown.

“I think there’s been a lot of … hype over it,” said Bates.

Moorlach suggested that if activists had a problem with the dangerous dog definitions, they should take it up with state legislators.

The petition, organized by the pit bull organization, asserted that the proposed changes “would adversely affect victims of cruelty seized in fight busts.”

It goes on to state:

The ordinance would also deem any dog as a “Level 1: potentially dangerous” dog if that dog injured or caused any injury to a domestic animal. So, if a bird, rabbit, dog or cat came onto the property of the dog’s owner and the dog reacted by injuring the animal, that dog would be labeled as “Level 1: potentially dangerous.” This provision should only apply when dogs are off their owner’s property.

In addition, innocent dogs who did not even participate in an attack could be held responsible. In a situation when multiple dogs are present at the time of an incident, the proposed ordinance declares that if “it could not reasonably be ascertained which of the dogs so acted, than all the dogs may be declared to be Level 1, 2, or 3 dogs.”

The ordinance change was spearheaded by Spitzer, who has made public safety issues a central theme of his policy efforts.

It was first proposed in September, apparently because a canyon resident was using dogs to intimidate others.

Spitzer wanted the default to be for dangerous dogs to be killed, leaving it to the animal control director to justify giving a dog back instead. And he argued for a website, like those for sex offenders, that lists the home addresses of dogs deemed dangerous by the county.

Since September, the issue has been repeatedly brought to the board and delayed. Tuesday’s was the seventh time it was on the agenda.

Please contact Nick Gerda directly at ngerda@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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