Ten years after death of 2-year-old attacked by pit bull, family shares story; approved Pit Bull Ordinance helps with healing
Friday, October 11th, 2013
Issue 41, Volume 17.
Thirty-year-old Star Batey, the babysitter, left Somer and her younger brother Matthew with her 11-year-old son as other adult members of the household slept. Batey left at 7 a.m. that morning, the morning of June 20, 2003, and would not return to the household until three hours later – after Somer had been mauled to death.
Batey’s dog, Baby Boy, had been playing in the yard where Somer was roaming when, for unknown reasons, it attacked the girl and dragged her through the yard for 45 minutes before she eventually succumbed to her injuries.
In the weeks and months that followed, a trial took place and Batey was sentenced to one year in prison in December of that year for aggravated manslaughter. She served her sentence until August of 2004, several months short of a full year.
Although Batey faced consequences for her actions, Collinsworth was never fully satisfied. She said she didn’t like the idea that similar attacks could happen.
Collinsworth, who has described Somer as her "precious baby girl," has spent much of the time since the accident dedicated to finding a way to enact legislation that would impose stricter regulations for the dogs if not ban them altogether in the State of California.
But like many causes, Collinsworth’s proposed ordinance has never materialized. She said many of the politicians she introduced her bill to provided her with no response and no indication that they would do anything with it. Collinsworth has taken a break for the last several years from working to make her form of legislation a reality, but never gave up hope that a similar bill or proposal might pique the public interest.
Recently, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors introduced a proposed ordinance that would require pit bull owners in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County to have their pit bulls neutered or spayed, a form of legislation Collingsworth said she supports because it would be an important first step in mitigating the number of Pit Bull-related attacks in the area.
On Tuesday, Oct. 8, the ordinance was approved.
Supervisor Ken Stone said the ordinance was a result of the number of attacks that happened in the area and that it was necessary for the protection of communities in Riverside County.
"I’ve seen scores and scores of deaths and maimings of individuals of all ages – all from pit bull attacks," said Supervisor John Tavaglione, who joined his colleagues in a 5-0 vote to enact the ordinance following nearlytwo hours of public testimony.
"The Pit Bull Ordinance will enhance public safety from these aggressive canines and will reduce up to 30 percent of the euthanasia in our animal shelters," said Stone. "I am troubled that these canines are often trained to viciously attack with their strong jaw strength, contributing to the senseless loss of life we have seen in our county."
The law would be enforced in conjunction with other current laws, according to John Welsh, director of Riverside County Animal Services.
"One of the things that many dog owners forget is a dog must be licensed through the state of California; that is a state law," said Welsh.
Welsh said that currently license inspectors walk through areas of California to verify the dogs they see have tags. If they happen to notice a dog doesn’t have tags, they can enter the address where the dog is owned and verify whether or not it is licensed.
Now an additional criterion for license inspectors in unincorporated areas of Riverside County will be to check with owners to see if their pit bulls are fixed if they should happen to confront those owners about the pit bull not being licensed, according to Welsh.
Welsh cautioned that although the law may sound wide-sweeping or bound to impact a large number of pit bulls and pit bull owners throughout Riverside County, it’s important to remember that the ordinance only impacts those areas which are unincorporated. Therefore, independent cities can make their own judgments about whether the breed of dog should be sterilized.
But Welsh said the bill will still do a lot of good for pit bulls in that it will both lower the number of dogs euthanized and mitigate the chances that an attack could happen because the dogs – in those areas at least – will be less interested in roaming around searching for mates.
"When a dog is fixed, not always but generally, it tends to roam less frequently," said Welsh. "When you have a secure yard, it won’t try to break your fence or dig under your fence, so we tend to think a sterilized dog is a safer dog."
Sterilization also means there will be less pit bulls and pit bull mixes in the pounds to be euthanized, according to the director, who said that every one in four dogs euthanized in Riverside County is a pit bull.
Collinsworth said the ordinance is a very important step, but that she hopes to be involved with an even stronger form of legislation to stop attacks.
For now, she continues to tell people Somer’s story in the hope that people will consider smarter options for keeping the dogs and will recognize that they are dangerous.
"I know she (Somer) has touched lives," said Collinsworth. "The story has made an impact."
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