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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/17/2014

Failure to register dog case dismissed in Fulton County

BY ALEXANDRA MESTER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tyler Bork, 11, holds the family dog, Bailey, with his sister Kayla, 6. A case against their father, Tim, over registering the dog in Swanton was dismissed Wednesday. Tyler Bork, 11, holds the family dog, Bailey, with his sister Kayla, 6. A case against their father, Tim, over registering the dog in Swanton was dismissed Wednesday.
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A Fulton County Eastern District judge dismissed a case Wednesday against a Swanton man charged with failing to register a dog that was deemed vicious because it was labeled a “pit bull”-type dog.

The case, filed with the court in July last year, centered around a mixed-breed dog named Bailey owned by Tim Bork and his family.

The village’s counsel for the case, Yvonne Trevino, filed the motion for dismissal that acknowledged there was not enough evidence to overcome reasonable doubt.

“They could not prove under their definition of a vicious dog that [Bailey] fit the conditions of the ordinance,” Alan Konop, attorney for Mr. Bork, said.

Ms. Trevino did not return a call from The Blade seeking comment. Jon Gochenour, the village administrator, said Swanton officials had no comment.

Mr. Bork said the family is relieved that the case that has dragged on for nine months is over.

“It feels like the biggest weight has been lifted,” he said.

Despite the state’s 2012 move away from breed-specific language, Swanton maintains an ordinance labeling as vicious “any breed of dog that is commonly known as a ‘pit bull dog.’ ”

The ordinance states that Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, and American Staffordshire terriers are vicious, as well as any mixed breed dog that has “as an element of its breeding, the breed of Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, or American Staffordshire terrier, and the Perro De Canario, aka the Canary Dog.”

Fulton County Dog Warden Brian Banister, at the request of Swanton police, visited Mr. Bork’s home June 13 and told him after an inspection that Bailey was likely a Brazilian mastiff mix, also known as a Fila Brasileiro, and he considered her to be a “pit bull”-type dog. The Brazilian mastiff is not among the specific breeds listed in the ordinance.

Mr. Banister said that, other than providing his opinion as a courtesy for the police department, he was not involved in the matter.

“I do not enforce Swanton’s ordinances, only state law,” he said.

A DNA test commissioned by The Blade of Bailey showed she is a mix of American bulldog, Rottweiler, American Staffordshire terrier, black and tan coonhound, Coton de Tulear, bull terrier, Neapolitan mastiff, and miniature pinscher.

The dog is less than 50 percent “pit bull,” which is the standard that past Ohio court cases have used in determining whether a dog is a “pit bull”-type.

Wednesday’s dismissal of the case does not make a determination on whether Swanton’s ordinance is constitutional.

Mr. Bork said the ordinance unfairly targets a specific type of dog simply based on breed, even if a dog’s behavior shows no indication of potential aggression.

“That has to change,” he said. “Any dog can bite.”

In December, the Ohio 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled that “pit bull”-specific language in Lima’s vicious dog ordinance was unconstitutional, as it conflicted with the breed-neutral state law.

Jean Keating, co-founder of the Ohio Coalition for Dog Advocates, which paid for Mr. Bork’s attorney, said an ordinance in Swanton and an identical one in Wauseon are not only in conflict with state law, but are ineffective and essentially unenforceable.

She said the way it’s written indicates that any dog with any small amount of “pit bull” genetics is included and labeled vicious.

“Nobody can identify a dog that has 1 percent of a ‘pit bull’-type dog in it,” she said. “It’s completely ludicrous.”

Outside of genetic testing, which she noted is often inconclusive for dogs with a very mixed breed background, Ms. Keating said there is no way to positively identify a dog’s breeding based on appearance alone.

“Our dog is a mutt,” Mr. Bork said. “We don’t know what she is really, but she has what some people consider characteristics of a ‘pit bull’ with a square head and thick chest.”

Mr. Bork said he plans to be involved in all local efforts to remove breed-specific ordinances and policies in the area.

“It’s not fair to the community, it’s not fair to the [dog] owners ... and it’s not fair to the dogs,” he said. “No one should have to go through what we went through.”

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.



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