RIVERSIDE, Calif. -

A proposed Riverside County ordinance mandating that all pit bulls over 4 months old -- with few exceptions -- be sterilized for the sake of public safety will be debated by the Board of Supervisors tomorrow.

``While the majority of pit bull owners are responsible and take appropriate measures to ensure that their dogs do not have unwanted offspring, there is a need to mitigate the large number of unwanted pit bulls in the county,'' an introduction to the proposed ordinance reads.

The Department of Animal Services broached the issue of restricting pit bull breeding to the board during a meeting in April, receiving a mixed response.

Many pit bull owners complained that the breed had been ``sensationalized,'' and argued that the dogs were unfairly targeted for criticism. Victims of pit bull attacks, including Beaumont City Councilwoman Brenda Knight, countered that the canines have a vicious streak and physical makeup that make them inherently dangerous.

According to a Department of Animal Services statement, the purpose of the proposed ordinance is to ``protect the public's health and welfare from irresponsible owners of pit bulls by mitigating the over-population of unwanted pit bulls.''

Animal Services Director Rob Miller noted that 20 percent of impounded dogs and 30 percent of those euthanized at county shelters are pit bulls, which ``historically have very low redemption or adoption rates.''

Under the measure, which will be the subject of another hearing next month, any pit bull over 4 months old would be required to be spayed or neutered unless an owner can qualify the animal for one of the following five exemptions:

   -- the dog belongs to a registered breeder at the time the ordinance was enacted;
   -- is trained for law enforcement duties;
   -- is an ``assistance dog'' for a disabled person;
   -- has been certified by a veterinarian as having a health defect that sterilization would aggravate; or
   -- is in training and licensed in another county.

In its proposal, the Department of Animal Services defines pits as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Stafford Terriers ``or any mixed breed which contains ... any one of these breeds so as to be identifiable as partially of one or more of these breeds.''

A dog owner may request a ``breed determination,'' which would require the county's chief veterinarian or a member of his staff to examine the pet. If the dog is designated a pit bull, an owner would have the opportunity to appeal the finding by before a county administrative officer, or take the case to court.

Individuals who fail to comply with the ordinance would be assessed fines and penalties, according to county officials. Enforcing the ordinance would occur when a dog is impounded or when it's brought in to be vaccinated, licensed or microchipped.

Numerous pit bull attacks have been reported countywide this year.

In June, an 80-year-old French Valley man was seriously mauled by his son's 90-pound Mastiff pit mix. In February, a 91-year-old Hemet woman was killed by her two pit bulls.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said in April that he wanted tough regulations targeting owners after learning that an 84-year-old Jurupa Valley man was torn apart by a pit bull while sitting in his wheelchair.

If approved, the ordinance would only apply to unincorporated communities, though area cities could choose to adopt the county measure.