Ohio Valley Dog Owners, Inc.

Protecting dogs, dog owners and our neighbors
through education and community service


The battle against breed-specific laws in Ohio

The latest update
December 28, 2007

On August 1, 2007, Ohio Supreme Court upheld the right of cities to regulate dogs by breed in the interests of public safety. The case was Toledo v Tellings; the defendant has appealed the Ohio decision to the US Supreme Court.

Since that decision, several cities in Ohio have passed or considered breed-specific bans or restrictions and Ohio lawmakers have failed to address the state's limits on dogs of the pit bull type. On the other hand, the City of Cincinnati is reconsidering its ban as expensive and unenforceable.

Following that decision, State Representative Shawn Webster DVM introduced HB 366, a bill to eliminate breed specific language from state law but reserve the right for cities to pass such ordinances in accordance with the Supreme Court decision.

Regardless of the fate of HB 366, Ohio's vicious dog law remains in limbo since a 2004 Supreme Court decision that declared it to be unconstitutional for failure to provide due process for owners of dogs accused of vicious behavior. The case was State v Cowan; at issue was the failure of the law to allow dog owners an opportunity to challenge a dog warden's allegation that their dog was vicious. Lawmakers have yet to rewrite the vicious dog law to fix that problem.

Meanwhile, cities continue to deal with large numbers of dogs described as pit bulls owned by criminals, gang members, and people who want a dog to enhance their tough image in the eyes of their neighbors and cronies, and the dogs and their responsible owners suffer the consequences.

Update

Note: HB 189 was introduced in the 2005-06 session of the Ohio legislature to fix Ohio's dangerous/vicious dog law to provide due process for dog owners. The bill died at the end of that session,
but the information about the issues is still important to Ohio dog owners
and so has been retained to provide a record of the battle to fix these laws.

HB 189 dropped 'pit bull' from vicious dog list
and added due process for animal owners

Ohio dog owners have a chance to restore sanity to the state's vicious dog law while holding dog owners accountable for the actions of pets that are dangerous to the community.

Introduced by Representative Kathleen Walcher of Norwalk and Representative Shawn Webster, a veterinarian from Millville, HB 189 (http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=126_HB_189) changed the breed-specific portion of the definition of vicious dog from "Belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog" to "Has been possessed, trained, or used for purposes of dogfighting."

Introduced in the wake of an Ohio Supreme Court decision (http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/newpdf/0/2004/2004-ohio-4777.pdf) that declared a substantial portion of the state's animal control law to be unconstitutional, the bill provided for due process for dog owners whose pets have been accused of aggressive behavior; authorized appointment of hearing officers who have received training in canine behavior; and offered a detailed description of required confinement for vicious and dangerous dogs.

HB189 deserved the active support of every dog owner in Ohio and of out-of-state owners who are interested in fair and equitable animal control laws. It removed the potential for harassment of owners of dogs identified as 'pit bulls' and based confinement and insurance requirements on the dog's behavior, not its physical appearance. It also protected owners whose dogs have been accused but not convicted of bad behavior and held owners responsible for the actions of their pets if an allegation is proven.

The Ohio Dog Warden's Association fought to keep the 'pit bull' language in the bill, and gained the support of the Ohio County Commissioners Association.

History

In September 2004, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a substantial portion of the state's dangerous dog law was unconstitutional because it denied dog owners their day in court. The law allowed dog wardens to designate a dog as dangerous or vicious without providing owners an opportunity to challenge that assessment unless they risked further charges by violating the order to buy insurance or confine the dog in a locked pen.

The case was State of Ohio v Cowan (see link above). It involved two German Shepherd Dogs classified as vicious based on a neighborhood complaint. The dog owner refused to abide by the designation and was further cited for failure to provide insurance or confine the dogs.

In its decision, the court noted that dogs are property in Ohio and said that "We find it inherently unfair that a dog owner must defy the statutory regulations and become a criminal defendant, thereby risking going to jail and losing her property, in order to challenge a dog warden's unilateral decision to classify her property."

HB189 fixed this failure by providing an opportunity for owners of accused dogs to request a hearing before being required to purchase $100,000 liability insurance or building a pen to confine the dog.

Pit bulls in Ohio

Ohio is the only state that labels a type of dog as vicious and therefore requires that owners abide by all of the regulations affecting vicious dogs regardless of their dog's behavior. These requirements include confining the dog in a locked pen, restraining it on a chain link leash or tether, and purchasing $100,00 liability insurance policy.

The law has been the basis of neighborhood complaints against responsible owners of well-behaved pets, allowed some overzealous dog wardens to harass responsible owners based on the appearance of their dogs, caused the death of good dogs when owners could not afford to purchase the required insurance or opted to surrender their dogs in a plea bargain, generated hysterical media coverage of any incident involving a 'pit bull,' and led to dozens of additional restrictions or bans on these dogs in cities and villages throughout the state.

Many dog wardens consider the following breeds and mixes to be 'pit bulls' and require owners to purchase the insurance and build the pen required by law. Some cities add requirements such as muzzling when the dog is in public or prohibit owners from having more than one vicious dog. The latter restriction prohibits breeders and exhibitors in those jurisdictions from owning more than one show or breeding dog, keeping a puppy from a litter of any of these breeds, or continuing a breeding program unless they dump their non-breeding dogs on shelters, sell them or give them away, or have them euthanized. The law's definition of pit bull is ambiguous, so many dog wardens have defined it themselves to include the following breeds and mixes:

Analysis of HB 189

HB 189 was not limited to the portion of state law that defines and deals with dangerous or vicious dogs. The bill amended much of ORC 955.11 and 955.22, a substantial portion of the state's animal control law. Along with providing for due process for dog owners and eliminating breed-specific restrictions, the bill ...

Changes wanted to see

  1. HB 189 still considered a chain link leash to be appropriate for restraining a vicious dog; we'd like that specification dropped from the bill because chain link leashes are unreliable.
  2. HB 189 allowed animal control agencies to collect fees from owners before releasing a dog from custody but does not allow for cancellation of those fees if the dog is exonerated of the charges. Therefore, we'd like to see a change in language that allows for the fee to be dropped if the hearing officer or court rules in favor of the dog owner.
  3. We wanted to see language similar to the following added to the definition of vicious dog: "A dog that has been used in the commission of a crime or is used to guard criminal activities or threaten members of the community."
  4. We wanted to add a provision that allowed for removal of a dog from the dangerous dog designation, including an obedience-training requirement and a time period of good behavior before the owners can petition for removal.
  5. We wanted to see a requirement for microchip identification of dogs found to be dangerous or vicious.

 

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