Bill lifting “vicious” label from “pit bull” dogs goes to Ohio governor

February 8, 2012 — After 25 years, the State of Ohio may be about to do away with its breed specific law.

The Ohio House of Representatives voted 67-30 Wednesday to send House Bill 14 to Gov. John Kasich’s desk. The State Senate passed the measure last week by a vote of 27-5. The Governor is expected to sign the legislation, which sailed through both houses of the legislature with veto-proof majorities.

The law, which declared that any dog “of a breed commonly known as a pit bull” was a “vicious” dog, was enacted in the summer of 1987, but never resulted in the improved community safety outcomes it sought. The law did result in discrimination and unjustified shelter killing.

Eleven states currently have laws in effect that specifically forbid regulation of dogs on the basis of breed. Where breed-specific regulations do exist, at whatever level of government, they are inevitably enforced on the basis of subjective opinions concerning a dog’s appearance.

Section 955.11 of the Ohio Revised Code defines a “vicious dog” as one that, without provocation, has seriously injured a person, killed another dog, or “belongs to a breed of that is commonly known as a pit bull dog.” Designation of a dog as a “pit bull” dog triggers additional liability insurance, restraint, and other requirements for the dogs’ owner. It also significantly increases the chances that a dog so labeled by a dog warden will be euthanized if picked up on the street.

In addition to dropping the language that targets “pit bull” dogs from the law, House Bill 14 would redefine current designations of “vicious” and “dangerous” dogs, create a third lesser category of “nuisance” dogs, create a venue for dog owners to appeal law enforcement’s labeling of their dogs, and place the burden to prove the classification by clear and convincing evidence on the dog wardens.

The Ohio County Dog Warden’s Association remained officially neutral during the legislature’s deliberations, at the same time stating that House Bill 14 offered the best chance for much needed reform on the issues in question.

John Dinon, executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society, applauded the vote. His is one of a number of groups that have been fighting for years to change Ohio’s vicious dog law from a breed-based law to a one based on behavior. “We feel that this is not only more fair to the dogs, but also makes our state safer since the new law gives dog wardens tools to go after dangerous dogs of all breeds,” Mr. Dinon told the Toledo Blade.

(Prepared in part from a report in the Toledo Blade by Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance.)

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