Last week, the Riverside County supervisors approved an ordinance requiring the sterilization of pit bull breeds in the unincorporated portions of the county. The board’s vote was unanimous.

The supervisors were collectively firm in their decision on the issue with no hesitancy or reluctance in casting their vote “aye.”

Even First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who originally had doubts about “government intrusion into private property rights of individuals unless you have a compelling reason,” voted for the ordinance.

“What compelling reason is there to authorize the Animal Control Department more authority, a little more intrusion? The compelling reason was stated over and over,” Jeffries stressed. “Pit bulls are 5 percent of the dog population and responsible for 60 percent of the deaths. I see a compelling reason.

“It is an irresponsible reason not to address this issue,” he concluded. “We have to try to find a solution … Spay and neuter is not an extermination order.”

Idyllwild’s Supervisor Jeff Stone said, “The biggest problem is irresponsible pit bull owners. But if one life is spared through the ordinance, it’s one life worth saving. I believe we’re doing the right thing.”

The ordinance specifies that owners of pit bulls or pit bull breeds (such as Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers or American Stafford terriers) must have dogs more than 4 months old spayed or neutered. Failure to have the dog sterilized can result in misdemeanor with fines or penalties.

The ordinance provides for several exemptions; the most obvious is for licensed breeders. Individuals who breed these dogs will have to register with the Riverside County Department of Animal Services. Other exemptions include pit bulls appropriately trained and used for law enforcement purposes by a public law enforcement agency or ones designated as assistance dogs as defined in the Food and Agriculture Code, sec. 30850. The ordinance is effective Nov. 7.

Many county residents came to the hearing prior to the vote to speak on both sides of the issues. Both sides were passionate about their views.

Based on comments from pit bull owners such as Beth Lloyd, who also shows the dogs, Robert Miller, director of Riverside County’s Animal Services Department, intends to include them in the exemptions administratively without changing the ordinance.

“I do show my dogs and I’ve only had two litters in 20 years,” said Lloyd.

But many others were concerned about the future of pit bulls in the county. “Approving the ordinance is discrimination against this breed. You’re passing a fear-based law,” said Veronica Hernandez. “This is only the beginning and opens the door to banning and killing pit bulls in the county.”

She and others argued that the sterilzation ordinance should be broadened to include all breeds, not limited to pit bulls or pit bull-type breeds. While the percentage of pit bull breeds impounded in county shelters is about 20 percent and about one-third of the dogs euthanized are pit bulls, they argue that the vast majority of impounded and euthanized dogs are not pit bulls.

“I’m tired of hearing how many more children and elderly people are being killed or eaten to death,” said Linda Collingsworth. “I don’t know if owners care for the pit bulls or care more about their children."