Berkeley Humane Commission Members Propose Mandatory Neutering of Pit Bulls

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 09, 2006

The American Kennel Club is howling about a law some members of the Citizens Humane Commission are proposing that would mandate the spaying and neutering of most Berkeley pit bulls, a breed overrepresented in the city’s animal shelter. 

The draft ordinance, which continues to be tweaked by the Citizens’ Humane Commission, proposes mandatory spaying and neutering of pit bulls, except when the animal is younger than eight weeks old, when it is a show dog and the owner has obtained a breeding permit, or when the animal has been in Berkeley fewer than 30 days. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined $500 for the first infraction and, for the second offense, may be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in the county jail. 

“Pit bulls and other breeds like Rotweilers have been bred to be aggressive,” said Councilmember Dona Spring, the council representative to the Humane Commission. “There are some very well-behaved, well-trained pit bulls, but there is an uncertainty about them,” Spring said, noting that if the breed were not overrepresented—if their reproduction were curtailed—then there would be fewer euthanized in the city shelter. (Dogs stay seven days in the shelter before they are killed or “rescued” by local non-profit organizations.)  

“We don’t have a problem with too many poodles at the animal shelter,” Spring said. 

The American Kennel Club, however, has called on its membership to flood the City Council and Humane Commission in opposition to the measure, which, they say, unfairly targets pit bulls. 

“The American Kennel Club feels that measures that target any responsible dog owners is not fair,” said Lisa Peterson, AKC spokesperson. Laws should instead target irresponsible dog owners, “those who breed the dogs to be vicious,” she said. 

AKC’s position is to target “the deed, not the breed,” Peterson said. 

However, pit bulls are targeted because they are hard to adopt out, said Kate O’Connor, Berkeley’s Animal Care Services manager. About 30 percent of the animals that come in to the Berkeley shelter are pit bulls, she said; however, about 80 percent of the shelter population is made up of pit bulls because they are so difficult to adopt out. Last month 19 pit bulls came into the shelter, compared to eight Rotweilers and eight Shepherd mixes. 

Peterson further challenged the proposed ordinance, noting the difficulty of recognizing a pit bull mix, but O’Connor said that she and other Animal Care Services staff have many years experience in recognizing these dogs. The proposed ordinance includes the right to appeal to the Animal Care Services manager or her designee. 

The commission will next discuss the proposed ordinance at its May 17 meeting, 7 p.m., North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way..